By The Naples Daily News
Bolstering mental health programs in a state that’s ranked No. 50 in per capita funding. Further protecting vulnerable elders from abuse. Making sure Florida pays competitive teacher salaries.
Stopping lawmakers from diverting money from Florida’s affordable housing trust funds in order to balance the budget. Addressing additional ways to protect our water quality, specifically by eliminating septic tanks that might leak into aquifers.
If that agenda was accomplished by the 2019 Legislature, it would be an extremely successful session. It’s the campaign platform of state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican who we enthusiastically endorse for re-election on the Nov. 6 ballot against an outstanding Democratic opponent, Annisa Karim.
Passidomo’s District 28 spans Collier and Hendry counties as well as southern and eastern Lee County.
In a Republican-controlled Legislature, Passidomo, who has served in either the Florida House or Senate since 2010, should be well-positioned to help influence her chamber’s direction in 2019.
This year she chaired the pre-K through 12th-grade appropriations subcommittee, crafting a budget proposal that would have raised teacher salaries in Florida by 2 percent, significantly increased the allotment for teachers’ classroom supplies and created a new initiative to address mental health issues that are troubling students, thus affecting their schools.
Passidomo was on the right track to help public schools, but says two things happened: The House had different education spending priorities and the tragic South Florida high school shooting necessarily shifted the Legislature’s focus and spending to safety programs.
In the end, Passidomo says, the Legislature increased the student funding allocation for all programs by 1.4 percent or $101.50 per student total. Mental health assistance for schools, for example, received $69 million.
With leadership changes looming for 2019 in the House, Senate and governor’s mansion, Passidomo has the knowledge of the inner workings of the current education budget to pursue what’s needed in the state during her next term.
Similarly, it was her bipartisan bill to stop the legislative raids of the affordable housing trust fund that could have assisted Collier County and south Lee County as they now grapple with providing adequate housing options for the workforce and senior citizens. The 2018 bill didn’t pass, but she’s primed to try again.
Increased housing assistance for elders would add to Passidomo’s legislative accomplishments on behalf of seniors during the past eight years. An attorney, she’s pushed to strengthen protections for older residents covered under Florida’s guardianship laws.
While this year’s additional mental health money for students was an important first step, Passidomo calls it “the proverbial drop in a bucket of funding that we need for mental health prevention, early intervention and treatment” programs. She vows to advocate for adequate funding to follow through on a behavioral health initiative approved in 2016 by the Legislature.
As for protecting water quality, while various officials focus on other necessary aspects of this critical issue, Passidomo wants to explore an idea she’s dubbed “septic to sewer.” For example, she suggested environmental bonds might create financing so property owners can replace older septic tanks with connections to expanded sewage treatment systems. Septic tanks that leak into the groundwater are a concern, she says, and the outright cost of septic tank conversion or replacement is out of reach for many property owners if they don’t have financing.
Though we haven’t endorsed Karim in this race and didn’t in a 2016 Collier County Commission contest, it’s only because she’s challenged two of Collier’s political stalwarts. There’s no question Karim is well-prepared to become an accomplished public servant.