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Passidomo took the grassroots path to the legislature

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Passidomo took the grassroots path to the Legislature

The lawmaker has a history of working with Bar sections on legislation

Senior Editor

Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, laughs when asked how she went from a busy legal career to a respected position in the Florida Legislature.

Kathleen Passidomo “When I first got to Naples in 1979, I was the third female attorney and so immediately I got asked to become involved in every charitable, civic, and professional association. Everyone wanted free legal advice. I wasn’t smart enough to say ‘no,’” she said. “I’ve been involved in over 100 local charitable, civic, and professional organizations. My philosophy was you don’t just join an organization, you run it.

“So many of the things we were dealing with locally were impacted by state laws and the state budget,” Passidomo added, and when her local state representative retired in 2010, she decided to take the plunge.

Florida was in the depths of its foreclosure crisis and Passidomo was fresh from the presidency of the Collier County Bar, where she had put together a task force with the goal of keeping people in their homes. It didn’t work, she said, because “these were a disaster.”

But her experience quickly made her a leader on the issue in the Legislature, and, in 2013, after three years of effort, she spearheaded an overhaul of the state’s foreclosure laws. It gave lenders a way to speed a foreclosure but also, in the wake of the robosigning scandals, required better paperwork from banks. It also allowed homeowner associations to intervene and seek to move a foreclosure case along.

“I think it’s working well,” Passidomo said of the legislation. “That’s just one tool in the whole toolbox we’ve been working on, including getting people back to work.”

Since the legislation passed, boosted funding from the Legislature helped cut into the backlog of foreclosure cases, while the number of new foreclosures has dropped by more than 50 percent.

Quote Passidomo worked with the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section on the foreclosure bill, among other players. She has a history of working with Bar sections both on high-visibility legislation and important but lower-profile nuts-and-bolts bills that affect businesses and lawyers.

“I found her to be a breath of fresh air in the sense that she cared about the legislation that was somewhat academic,” said former Business Law Section Chair Louis Conti, noting in particular her involvement with the new access to digital records law.

“She was active in trying to understand the industry concern of internet providers and the issues that were impacting fiduciaries and people wanting access to digital records,” he said.

“She very smart; She’s very professional. Kind of a dream, from my perspective, to work with,” said another section member, Pensacola attorney Jodi Cooke. “She does her homework; she knows what we’re talking about; she knows why a law needs to be changed. She’s been very committed to making sure business laws in the state of Florida are reflective of what is going on in Florida and at the same time protecting consumers.”

Cooke worked with Passidomo updating the state’s assignment of benefits to creditors law.

“That’s boring for most, but for people who deal with this on a daily basis, it’s very important that it be done correctly,” said Cooke. She said the state law provides an alternative to federal bankruptcy court that is less expensive and can leave more assets for repaying creditors.

“The area on which I worked with her most closely during the past two years is guardianship. The existing system has some structural challenges, and she has sponsored and passed legislation that helps improve the system to protect our most vulnerable residents,” said fellow Naples attorney and Bar Board of Governors member Laird Lile, who serves on the Judicial Management Council work group on guardianship. “I look forward to continuing to work with Kathleen Passidomo, who has both the compassion and intellect to address the systemic challenges.

“In her legislative role, Kathleen uses the skill set she developed as a real estate lawyer in Collier County — she listens to understand the issue, she solicits input from all sides, and then she makes firm decisions and works tirelessly on implementation. Because of her service in Tallahassee, Florida is a better place.”

Passidomo received her undergraduate degree from Trinity University in Washington, D.C., and then attended Stetson University College of Law, getting her degree in 1978. After law school, Passidomo settled in Naples, where she practices real estate, real estate development, and business law as a partner in Kelly, Passidomo & Alba. She is Florida Bar certified in real estate law.

Passidomo said she appreciates working with Bar sections and what they bring to the legislative process.

“I have never met such a dedicated group of lawyers, all of whom have busy practices but all who get involved in their area,” she said, noting work she has done with the RPPTL, the Business Law, and Elder Law sections.

She has gone to the RPTTL Section with her ideas, and the section has come to her with their proposed legislation.

“I did a couple of guardianship bills, and the Elder Law Section members were terrific to work with,” Passidomo said. “We would meet in conference calls and in person and get a lot of feedback from other lawyers around the state. I couldn’t be more appreciative of the work they’ve done.”

Likewise, she worked with sections on identity theft legislation, noting, “I sat down with a couple lawyers and a private investigator. . . and realized the [ID theft legislation] was created so long ago it didn’t address digital theft. It also didn’t protect businesses from identify theft.”

Next session will see a major change for Passidomo. She gave up her House seat to run for the Senate and won a contested Republican primary. She faces only write-in opponents on the November ballot.

She expects to see some major issues, including the state water quality and related environmental issues. The Legislature is still working to reach a gambling compact with the Seminole tribe. Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has made higher education funding a priority.

Recent Supreme Court decisions will make workers’ compensation a major issue, and Passidomo said lawmakers will have to balance business concerns about rising workers’ comp insurance rates with the Supreme Court mandate that workers must have realistic access to the system.

Lawmakers may also again consider term limits for judges, a possible priority for incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz. For the past two years, Passidomo chaired the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, which considered that amendment in 2015. When it reached her committee, the amendment applied to all judges. When it left, it had been narrowed to only the appellate bench.

“Trial judges are in the trenches, and we absolutely need them as long as they’re willing to stay,” Passidomo said.

As for those coming legislative challenges, “I love it, I really do,” she said. “I feel like there are a lot of puzzles out there that need to be put together and solved.”

Training as a lawyer helps solve those puzzles, Passidomo said.

“There are many people who don’t appreciate when you create a bill, it doesn’t stand alone,” she said. “It goes into the statutes and becomes part of the law. You have to be careful what you’re working on, because it all connects. Whenever I look at a bill, I pull out the statutes to see how it fits and how it’s going to apply.”

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