The Florida Chamber of Commerce has named Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, the 2018 Most Valuable Legislator (MVL), for her commitment to securing Florida’s future. The announcement and presentation of the MVL was made during the Florida Chamber’s Board of Directors Thursday morning meeting taking place in Palm Bay.
The Florida Chamber’s Most Valuable Legislator award is the business community’s premier legislative award honoring a single lawmaker for his or her outstanding legislative leadership and willingness to take a stand for free enterprise.
“Early during the 2018 legislative process, the Florida Chamber encouraged lawmakers to lower the cost of living, lower the cost of doing business and move Florida forward by putting long-solutions ahead of short-term politics,” said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Chamber. “The Florida Chamber applauds Senator Kathleen Passidomo for her hard work and leadership on behalf of Florida’s families and businesses.”
A small-business woman, Sen. Passidomo has long been a fearless and effective partner in the Florida Chamber’s fight for free enterprise, says the Chamber in its press statement. As the torch bearer of multiple Florida Chamber-backed priorities this session, she attracted bipartisan support for pro-jobs legislation, took well-funded special interests head-on for Florida’s future job creators, and successfully sought to keep Florida’s dismal, bottom-five legal climate from getting worse. Florida needs more public servants who wake up every day thinking about how to make Florida more competitive—regardless of the opponent or political consequences.
“I am truly humbled to be recognized by the Florida Chamber of Commerce as their 2018 Most Valuable Legislator,” said Passidomo in accepting the award. “It is an incredible honor to receive this prestigious award. Legislative change doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes hard work, perseverance and collaborative effort. Working together with the Florida Chamber team, we have been able to advance policies that will have a lasting positive effect on Florida’s families and our business community.”
Previous recipients of the Florida Chamber’s Most Valuable Legislator award include: House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (2016), House Speaker Will Weatherford (2014), Rep. Larry Metz (2013), House Speaker Dean Cannon (2012), Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff (2011), Sen. John Thrasher (2010), Sen. Garrett Richter (2009), Rep. Dennis Ross (2008), Rep. Stan Mayfield (2007), Rep. Don Brown (2006) and House Speaker Allan Bense (2005).
Also Thursday morning, the Florida Chamber released its annual publication How They Voted — which provides the grades for all 155 legislators so business leaders can see who voted for or against job creation and economic growth.
State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, gave her take on the latest legislative session to her “peeps.”
She was joined by Reps. Byron Donalds and Bob Rommel, of Naples, who discussed some of the issues and results of the 2018 legislative session Wednesday at a breakfast hosted by the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce at Hilton Naples.
The annual event drew a packed house of more than 100 business, government and community leaders.
The No. 1 issue in the session became recovery from Hurricane Irma, Passidomo said. The state, she said, doled out $600 million to deal with the powerful storm’s aftereffects.
“Hopefully, we’ll get that back from FEMA,” Passidomo said. “Nobody knows.”
As a result of the storm, the way nursing homes and other senior facilities prepare for hurricanes and deal with their aftermath became a “big deal,” she said. Nursing home residents died following power outages that knocked out air-conditioning for days in sweltering heat in South Florida.
Another top issue heading into the session was the opioid crisis. Then there was the school shooting at a Florida high school in Parkland on Feb. 14, which brought school safety to the forefront, Passidomo said.
“Everything else went through the window,” she said.
The No. 1 success of the session was passing a $400 million bipartisan school safety bill, signed by the governor, Passidomo said.
“I will never apologize for voting for that bill,” she said.
Passidomo said she and other legislators took a lot of heat for the bill. She said she received volumes of letters and emails, criticizing her, insulting her and calling her names for supporting it.
“I know that was a very good bill because nobody likes it,” Passidomo said.
The measure — dubbed the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act” — made significant changes to gun laws and school security and increased funding for mental health treatment. It was vehemently opposed by the National Rifle Association, which filed a lawsuit the same day the governor signed it into action.
Fewer than 200 bills passed both chambers last session. Normally, the count is closer to 250, but this year was different because of the big issues on the table, such as school safety and the opioid epidemic, Passidomo said.
“It was a very good session,” she said. “I’m proud of what we did.”
Donalds said it was “great to be home,” although he missed getting anywhere he needed to be in 5 to 10 minutes like he does in Tallahassee. The second-term lawmaker took more of a leadership role this year on issues such as education and health quality.
Donalds served as vice chairman of the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, putting him in the media spotlight and requiring him to work more closely with legislative staff on crafting bills.
One of Donalds’ priorities was House Bill 1, which he proposed to provide state scholarships, or vouchers, to private schools for students bullied in public schools. The “Hope Scholarship” program became part of a major K-12 education bill, which passed both houses and was signed by the governor.
“It’s a tremendous honor to run a top priority,” he said.
Donalds touched on the importance of building relationships in the Legislature to get work done for all Floridians.
Southwest Florida has strong leaders in Tallahassee, Rommel said, including Passidomo, who he said could be the “future Senate president.”
Rommel served as vice chairman of the Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee, as well as serving on several other committees. He said he hoped to make headway on such issues as workers’ compensation reform and tort reform, but like others got caught up in dealing with the opioid and school safety concerns.
Rommel discussed a bill he championed in the 2017 session that changed the law to allow college and university officials to meet privately to discuss plans to deal with potential terrorist attacks, public safety crisis, and other campus emergencies — and the importance of that legislation after the Parkland shooting.
The state’s budget for next year totals more than $88 billion. It includes $97 million in one-time tax cuts — mostly sales tax holidays — which Rommel said he was “pretty proud of.”
While the state’s budget seems huge, Passidomo said it’s half the size of New York’s. Most of the budget in Florida goes toward education and health care, she said, with about 25 percent of it steered toward public safety, infrastructure, environmental spending and government operations.
The number of state employees per capita in Florida is among the lowest in the country, Passidomo said.
“We really don’t have a lot of discretionary funds to use,” she said.
Donalds said the state’s growing budget has much to do with a growing population, which means higher costs for health care and a greater number of students in public schools.
In closing Passidomo briefly addressed another controversial issue involving beach access and property rights.
A bill that passed both houses and was signed into law by the governor restricts local government’s ability to pass customary-use ordinances designed to ensure public access to private beaches. A judge now will decide whether the public can walk or sun themselves on privately owned sand.
The sand below the high tide line always is open to walking, fishing and other beach activities. Anything landward could be private property.
In passing the law, Passidomo said the legislature was “just trying to do the right thing.”
The new law won’t have as much of an impact in Collier County as it will on Walton County, between Pensacola and Panama City in the Panhandle, which enacted a customary-use ordinance allowing visitors to walk, sunbathe and picnic on private beaches a year ago.
“We renourish our beaches,” Passidomo said. “So you definitely have a lot of space to walk on.”
The organization recognized the pair “for work on issues impacting Florida insurance consumers” during the 2018 Legislative Session.
“The consumer protections that did occur this year would not have been possible without the initiative of these lawmakers,” PIFF President Michael Carlson said in a written statement.
“Sen. Passidomo worked to protect a competitive auto market in Florida by thwarting attempts to throw all auto crash claims into courthouses,” he said.
“Sen. Hukill acted on behalf of consumers, working to protect them from paying higher rates driven by inflated property insurance claims involving water and roofing losses. We are grateful for their support in tackling problems taking place in the insurance market, and have seen the prevention of further harm with their leadership.”
The PIFF Policy Group, comprising representatives of Allstate Insurance Cos., Farmers Insurance, the Progressive Group of Insurance Cos., and State Farm Insurance Co., voted to bestow the honor.
PIFF cited Hukill, a Republican from Port Orange, for supporting the priorities of the Consumer Protection Coalition — a Florida Chamber of Commerce-led business coalition in which PIFF participates, including assignment of benefits reform.
“Although her bill, SB 62, was never heard in committee, it served as a vehicle for real ‘silver bullet’ solutions to stop the rampant AOB abuse in Florida. While a solution is still needed, no further harm was done this year,” the federation said.
“I am honored to be recognized for consumer-focused efforts, and consider it my duty to advocate for policies that protect Floridians,” Hukill said. “I will continue to work toward a solution that ensures when families are in an auto or home crisis they are protected, and the AOB process is transparent and held accountable.”
Passidomo, a Naples Republican, sponsored amendments the federation credited with helping to sink legislation (SB 150) that would have repealed Florida’s personal injury protection auto-insurance mandate. Her proposals would have made it tougher to sue insurers for bad faith.
“I am humbled to be recognized with my good friend, Sen. Dorothy Hukill, for our shared concerns of constituents and consumers throughout the State of Florida,” Passidomo said.
PIFF identified eight legislators in 2017, the first year it recognized Legislative Champions.
Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is pushing for a system that would help Florida school districts spot and treat mental illness in students early on.
The senator has been working on the proposal, included in SB 1434, since last fall. It comes amid a national dialogue about the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High tragedy and what could have been done to prevent it.
“Different districts have different responses to students that are either acting out or having issues,” she said, “but we don’t really have a statewide policy.”
Introduced by Passidomo and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K through 12 Education, it would require school districts to establish partnerships with local mental health providers and train school staff to recognize symptoms in troubled kids.
Passidomo held workshops with school superintendents from around the state and discussed what social issues are of concern in their districts; substance abuse and mental health were among the top concerns.
She explained the program is meant to help divert kids from going down a dangerous path by recognizing symptoms early on and getting them help.
“We don’t have a mechanism to divert them from that path,” she said. “Teachers know who these kids are, but they’re powerless to do anything because we don’t have a structure in place.”
This week, she heard from student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High massacre who came to the Capitol to press legislators for stiffer gun restrictions.
“I don’t think there’s anyone that would dispute that someone (who) has a mental illness or mental health issues should be able to purchase any gun,” Passidomo said, replying to one student’s question.
As South Florida reels from Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Broward County high school, State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is working to secure funding for Florida school districts to better identify and address mental health concerns in students early on.
Unbeknownst to Sen. Passidomo, as she was presenting her bill (SB 1434) to members of the chamber’s K through 12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Wednesday, the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland was occurring.
The proposal calls for districts to create a plan or framework for identifying and addressing mental health concerns in students ranging from bullying to gang activity. Those plans would also involve partnerships between schools and local mental health providers. The idea was born out of workshops Passidomo held with education stakeholders including Broward County School District Superintendent Robert Runcie. Sen. Passidomo said it’s about providing the kind of proactive early intervention that could help prevent tragedies like Wednesday’s mass shooting.
“We need to address these issues early on,” said Sen. Passidomo. “I can’t say anymore. The thing that’s most troubling to me is that Florida is one of the worst states in the country for funding for mental health and so these kinds of things have happened and if we could intervene early on in the lives of these people they won’t become monsters that they are today. It’s reprehensible if we don’t do something soon.”
Currently, the Florida Senate’s approved $87.3 billion budget proposal includes $40 million for the initiative. Passidomo said that is not enough. She said she’s working to convince her Senate colleagues and the House to allocate more money for the effort in the 2018-19 fiscal year budget.
Nursing homes would have to have alternative power sources to keep on the air conditioning, under a bill approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.
The bill would put into law the emergency rules ordered by Gov. Rick Scott after 12 elderly residents in Hollywood died of heat after Hurricane Irma knocked out power at their nursing home.
Scott’s rules initially required generators in nursing homes and assisted living facilities that could power air conditioning in the event of a loss of power. But they were rewritten after threats of legal action from trade groups representing nursing homes and ALFs. They argued that many small assisted living facilities could not afford the industrial generators required.
The new, rewritten rules — and the bill approved Wednesday — do not require a generator. Instead, they require some alternative power source to run air conditioning in emergency situations.
“You can call it a generator bill, but it may not be a generator. It could be natural gas or it could be some other power source,” said state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, the bill sponsor. “And that makes sense — 10 years from now, generators may be passé and we may be solar or whatever.”
“I think his committee bill is going to be much broader and take into consideration a lot more than just the nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” Passidomo said.
The bill differs in one important aspect from Scott’s rules, in that it requires nursing homes and ALFs to keep at least four days of fuel for an emergency power source. Scott’s rules only require four days of fuel for facilities that are in an area where a state of emergency has been declared. In ordinary circumstances, under Scott’s rules, the facilities only need two or three days, depending on the size of the facility.
If the House produces a broader bill, the two chambers will have to agree on a single version of the bill before they can pass it and send it to Scott to be signed into law. Regardless of what else winds up in the bill, Passidomo said the bottom line is preventing more deaths.
“It shouldn’t have happened then, and we certainly don’t want it to happen in the future,” she said. “If these power sources work, then we won’t have any deaths.”
The two chambers both seek to increase per-student funding, but not by the same amount. The Senate is asking for $110 more, compared to the House’s $100. Neither approaches Gov. Rick Scott’s recommended $200 per student hike.
The Senate, like Scott, calls for leaving school districts’ required local taxing effort unchanged at $4.308 per $1,000 of taxable value. That would allow the schools to benefit from rising property values. The House, by contrast, looks to cut the rate by 19.1 cents per $1,000, suggesting that some new properties be added to the tax roll to increase revenue.
“It’s good that they’re coming closer to the concept,” Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairwoman Kathleen Passidomo said of the House. “The bottom line is when we looked at the numbers, it really didn’t, particularly in my district, using all the RLE doesn’t really affect the tax issues in our community so I felt very comfortable just keeping all of it in there.”
The Senate proposed changes to the House’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus program, for which the House set aside $253 million. After hearing teacher complaints, the Senate recommended moving $184 million into general operations to give classroom educators raises rather than one-time pay bumps.
“These funds will be in perpetuity,” Passidomo said, adding that the criteria would not change.
The Senate also included $88 million to support “Schools of Hope” grants for traditional district schools that have landed in turnaround mode because of two consecutive D grades or one F. It further would remove the cap on the number of schools eligible for grants of up to $2,000 per student.
“All the schools that are consistently low-performing should be eligible for those additional dollars in their turnaround plan, not just 25 schools. That’s why we did it. And a lot of our members have schools in those districts and they asked for it.”
The Senate joined Scott in proposing nearly $18 million more for teacher classroom supplies, and also recommended $40 million to help schools deal with student mental health issues (a Passidomo priority).
Committee members largely praised the process and the recommendations, which advance to the full Appropriations Committee.
Vice chairwoman Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, applauded the idea of getting raises to teachers, noting that many in Hillsborough County were refused raises by their school district. This can’t heal the wound, she said, but at least it can help them get back on track.
Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, said he had some (unmentioned) concerns, but added, “We will work though those as we move along.”
State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo has launched a powerful and alarming promotion of her bill to create a new Florida-based project to take care of babies born to opioid-addicted mothers.
Passidomo, a Republican from Naples, posted social-media advertisingfeaturing a video produced with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Fort Myers, talking about babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, the syndrome’s devastating effects on newborns, and its shocking increase in occurrence.
“We’ve seen a 1,200 percent increase in our babies admitted for neonatal abstinence syndrome,” Golisano Medical Director and neonatologist Dr. William Liu states in the video.
“What we are seeing is our babies are the ones who are collateral damage,” he states.
The babies are born addicted, and must go through painful and risky withdrawal.
Passidomo’s Senate Bill 434 would authorize a statewide pilot project for a new way to treat such babies. The bill is up for a key committee consideration Thursday afternoon.
The bill would authorize the Agency for Health Care Administration, in consultation with the Florida Department of Children and Families, to establish a pilot project to license one or more health centers to treat NAS babies after stabilization, offering a community-based, lower-cost, more baby-centric care. That’s an alternative to the current treatment normally provided in hospital neonatal intensive care units, care that is lengthy [averaging 23 days] and expensive, and a burden on the state’s Medicare program. Much of the the expensive equipment and staffing at the neonatal ICU is not needed after a few days.
The pilot project is part of a national effort.
“We have a responsibility to the babies being born into the devastation of the opioid crisis,” Passidomo stated in a news release issued by Florida Senate Republicans. “The Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Pilot Project takes important steps toward ensuring these babies are not left behind while we as a society work toward tackling the larger crisis we are facing.”
SB 434 was approved by the Senate Health Policy Committee in early November, and on Thursday is being considered by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, which meets at 12:30 p.m.
When Hurricane Irma swept through Florida more than 1½ months ago, the giant storm quickly stretched federal resources, tested local governments’ emergency plans and left so much destruction in its wake it could make the storm one of the costliest in the state’s history.
Hurricane Andrew “is nothing compared to Irma,” said Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, during a panel discussion in North Naples on Thursday, referring to the 1992 Category 5 storm that led to sweeping changes in the insurance industry, weather forecasting and disaster response.
“Irma hit the entire state.”
Passidomo — speaking as part of a panel put on by the Naples Press Club at the Tiburón Golf Club — said projections show the state “will advance about $665 million for hurricane-related expenses.”
State officials hope 75 percent to 95 percent of that will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, she said.
“That’s a huge number,” Passidomo said. “This is not going to be a cheap storm. We’re going to surpass probably Andrew, which was our highest expenditure.”
Irma, which made landfall in Collier County on Sept. 10, posed significant challenges to local officials, too.
Dan Summers, director of the Collier emergency operations center, praised the community’s resolve, the partnership with state and federal officials and the work of “second responders” who labored behind the scenes during the storm recovery effort.
But he said the far-reaching storm made it hard to adequately prepare.
“We had over 17,000 people in shelters,” said Summers, who also spoke as a member of the panel. “And I will tell you that we underestimated. Our planning assumptions were too low for sheltering.”
In the days and hours leading to the storm’s arrival in Southwest Florida, many residents faced long lines to enter shelters. Some had to look elsewhere as Collier officials navigated the largest evacuation in the county’s history.
Summers said Irma’s size and path made it difficult for residents looking to evacuate to know where to go.
The storm “coming up the spine, or up the center of the peninsula, generated such a large evacuation number in Collier County,” he said. “We’re going to go back and take a look at that.”
For FEMA officials, the storm — sandwiched between Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria, which devastated Texas and Puerto Rico, respectively — put a strain on federal resources, delayed housing inspections and overwhelmed the agency’s hotline in the aftermath.
Irma was unprecedented in its prolonged intensity, said Dolph Diemont, a federal coordinating officer for FEMA who spoke as part of the three-person panel.
“Packing 185 mph winds for 37 hours straight,” he said, reading from a prepared statement. “The longest on record maintained by any cyclone around the globe.”
Since the storm, 2.6 million individuals and families have registered for FEMA assistance, Diemont said, which exceeds the registrations for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma and Sandy combined.
“And that number continues to increase,” he said, adding that the registration deadline was extended to Nov. 24.
So far, almost 71,000 residents in Collier have registered with FEMA, Diemont said. Of the more than $1.3 billion in federal assistance distributed throughout Florida to date, about $52.5 million went to Collier, he said.
Representatives spoke about the long-term effects of Hurricane Irma on Collier’s economy and infrastructure. 6 Photos
Still, Diemont acknowledged that the agency — spread thin between three major storms — initially struggled to keep up with a flood of calls from residents trying to register and lagged behind in inspecting damaged homes.
“This resulted in longer processing times,” he said. “Our 1-800 number was frequently overwhelmed, and applicants complained of very long wait times, hours sometimes. Housing inspections were also delayed. Some waited for a month or longer to get their inspections.”
But Diemont said the agency brought in additional call center staff and increased its capacity to bring the hold time down to under a minute. FEMA also beefed up its number of housing inspectors, he said.
“We did whatever we could as best as we could,” Diemont said. “But I know a lot of people are frustrated.”
Diemont, in response to a question from the audience, also said that Everglades City — one of the hardest hit communities where relief was slow to arrive and many returned to uninhabitable homes — is “one of our highest priority areas.”
As of Thursday, 9,986 residents were eligible for rental assistance in Collier, Summers said. As part of transitional sheltering, which takes individuals from a shelter to a hotel, 112 residents are staying in hotels out of county and 343 in Collier hotels, he said.
Additionally, 81 Collier families are eligible for FEMA housing, Summers said.
Though he said the agency’s housing mission in Florida will be “long and complicated,” Diemont said FEMA is committed to stay for as long as it needs “to get the job done.”
“We’ll continue to work through these recovery challenges,” he said.
The infants are born addicted. They struggle to live. They cry constantly as they go through the same withdrawal symptoms as an adult, wanting more of the drug that had become their food the past nine months.
The opioid crisis impacts much more than the drug user. For the pregnant women addicted to these drugs the baby becomes addicted. When they are born, the crisis continues for days, even months, as they are treated for drug dependency. They need to be cared for 24 hours a day, except for the brief time they may fall asleep.
But in recovery, these babies need help once they can leave hospitals, usually in less than 20 days, but often times the mother, because of her addiction, can’t leave or isn’t capable of caring for the child. The babies need to be fed properly and cared for properly. Their mothers, in many cases still fighting substance abuse, aren’t capable of caring for them. Florida’s Department of Children and Families can assist, but it is overwhelmed. There are not enough foster families to take these babies.
Florida Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has a possible solution and one we believe can make a difference. She has introduced legislation that will create a pilot program, allowing private, non-profit organizations to establish facilities that can provide 24-hour care for these infants once they can leave intensive care units. She wants proper background checks before licenses are issued but reduced fees to make it affordable, and minimum requirements for organizations to create these facilities. She wants facilities that take Medicaid patients so low income women and their babies can get care.
These facilities will be accountable for following state law among their personnel and within the facility. Passidomo said motivation for the bill was provided by a Naples attorney, who has been volunteering at a local hospital, caring for these sick infants. The attorney has helped form a non-profit specifically for caring for opioid babies if this legislation is passed and the organization applies for and gets licensed.
An important component to the pilot program is not only the treatment of these sick infants, but also measuring the results. She wants the department of health to step up and contract with a state university or college to provide baseline data on outcomes of the care and treatment. She wants the department of health to report back to the Legislature by specified dates on how programs are functioning. The study also will go well beyond what happens at the facilities. Critical to this data will be plans to track these drug dependent babies throughout childhood on how well they are doing in school and if they also face any drug addictions.
We encourage Florida Gulf Coast University or Florida SouthWestern State College to take a serious look at the this program and how it can help. Medical students could benefit from the training and experience of working with individuals involved in the program and with infants.
We are also encouraged that this program goes well beyond the treatment of the infant. It provides for the mother, once she is successfully treated, to be a resident at the facility and to be able to feed her child. The program provides for parenting education, breastfeeding education and counseling, as well as other resources. It provides for mandatory testing of the mother’s breast milk to make sure she is still not using drugs that in any way can harm the baby. If the mother refuses, the mother will be told to leave. The bill also mandates a facility cannot treat an infant for longer than six months.
It’s also encouraging this program will not require taxpayer support, other than what is provided through Medicaid. Any organization that applies to be part of the program and to open a facility must do it through grants or other private donations.
We are in an opioid crisis. People are overdosing and dying in record numbers. The number of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (opioid dependent) babies born at or transferred into Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida has increased from 1.2 per every 1,000 live births in 2007 to 14.9 in 2016.
This is a big ask of any non-profit to take on such a tremendous responsibility, but it is an ask that must be made. These babies suffer enormously in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and at hospitals across the country. This problem is not easing. It is only getting worse.
Passidomo’s bill offers some hope to this crisis, not only through the treatment of these babies, but also the education and hopefully the prevention of further drug dependency by the mother.
We strongly encourage the Legislature to dissect the bill, ask the necessary questions, many any changes that improve the substance of the program, but in the end measure the worth of treating these babies, to pass the bill and send it to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.