Florida Senate Majority Leader Kathleen Passidomo was given a warm welcome at a recent meeting with the Democratic Women’s Club of Marco.
Senator Passidomo began with a brief introduction to the Florida Legislature’s functions and gave a few examples of funding passed this year. The budget priorities of the $90.98 billion Legislature’s budget included 43% for healthcare, 27% allocated to education, 20% for infrastructure, environment, and public safety, and funding for roadway repairs and for design and extending Suncoast Parkway.
Senator Passidomo would like to see the interior of the state flourish with more tourism. She would like to see funding for new roads that would extend to Georgia, which would provide additional evacuation routes.
The audience asked questions about voting integrity, restitution of voting rights for ex-felons (Amendment 4), regulating military style weapons and ammunition, mental health and guns, marijuana, and lack of affordable housing.
The first question dealt with preparing for the next election to prevent hacking, possible interference from foreign entities, machine malfunctions and voting integrity. Senator Passidomo called on Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards, present in the audience, to help answer. Collier County uses a stand-alone software program called “Clear Ballot” to tabulate its ballots. It is not connected to the internet and thus cannot be hacked. The state law requires that individual counties save images of the votes cast.
The topic turned to regulation of military style weapons. When asked if she supported universal background checks and banning military styled weaponry, the Senator responded that after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland last year, the Florida Legislature passed several pieces of legislation that outlawed bump stocks and prohibited those under 18 from purchasing guns. A “Red Flag” law which passed by the “skin of its teeth” allows for the removal of guns from suspects deemed to be dangerous by law enforcement. The “1,000-pound gorilla” is the ban of assault rifles, which she said would not pass because of the voters in the Panhandle.
Senator Passidomo was asked about mental health and gun violence. Her reply was that nothing is currently being done in the Florida Legislature to address this issue. Senator Passidomo fought to get funding for mental health included in the education budget. No one, Republican or Democrat, supported it. After the Parkland shootings, legislation was passed to beef up school security, but nothing was allocated for mental health.
Anissa Karim, Chair of the Collier County Democratic Party, said that access to guns is a real problem and that is the difference between the United States and other countries. New Zealand, for example, came up with a weapon ban in six days. She concluded, “Assault weapons don’t belong here. Please take this message to Tallahassee. People with mental health problems are more likely to be the victims of a shooting than the shooters.” The audience loudly applauded.
Reverend Lisa Lefkow, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Collier County, asked what was being done about affordable housing in the county. Senator Passidomo stated that in order to balance the budget, the Legislature swaps trust fund monies from one project to another, and affordable housing has suffered. The Senator is committed to fixing this problem. She proposes using affordable housing monies to buy up abandoned stores and empty strip mall centers to turn them into affordable apartments. She plans to do this by giving owners tax credits as incentives.
Senator Passidomo has summer office hours at the Collier County Courthouse on Tamiami Trail E in Naples for citizens who want to come and talk over their concerns. Call the Collier County Courthouse to check the hours that she is there. She maintained, “I represent everybody in this community. There are times when we don’t agree, but I’m always going to listen.”
The DWCMarco meets monthly on the second Tuesday from 5-6:30 pm. On September 10 the featured guest speaker will be Deborah Eby from Manatee Elementary School. The DWCMarco will be collecting books to donate to the school’s library. For more information, visit www.DWCMarco.org or contact us at DWCMarco@gmail.com.