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The Florida Senate

President Office — Press Release


March 6, 2024

CONTACT: Katie Betta, (850) 487-5229

President Passidomo Becomes a Safe School Canine Partner at Senate Portrait Unveiling

Senators Donate Safe School Canine “Birdie” to Lee County Sheriff’s Office in honor of President Passidomo

Tallahassee —

The official portrait of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) was unveiled today at 1:00 p.m. during a traditional biennial ceremony marking President Passidomo’s final session as the President of the Florida Senate. Senators gifted President Passidomo a safe school canine in honor of her work to develop Florida’s statewide Safe School Canine Program.

“With assistance from the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Senators purchased a safe school canine, making President Passidomo a Safe School Canine Partner,” said Senate Majority Leader Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula), who presented the gift to Senator Passidomo alongside Senator Minority Leader Lauren Book (D-Plantation).

In keeping with Senate tradition, each term Senators select a gift to honor the Senate President. President Passidomo’s safe school canine is a two-year old yellow lab named Birdie. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office received Birdie last month, and she is currently in training under the direction of Sergeant Brian Walkowiak.

Sergeant Walkowiak, K9 Birdie, and Matt Dunagan, representing the Florida Sheriff’s Association, were on hand for today’s ceremony. When Bridie completes her training, she will reside with a Lee County Sheriff’s Deputy and work alongside the deputy in Lee County Public Schools.

During the ceremony, President Passidomo presented each Senator with a cookbook entitled, Capitol Cuisine, Favorite Flavors of the Florida Senate. The cookbook includes either a local or family recipe from each Senator, as well as personal and family recipes from President Passidomo. The President is well-known for her love of cooking, and the book includes several of her secret recipes, tricks, and tidbits for cooking and hosting with a focus on Florida and Italian flare.

Florida Safe Schools Canine Program

Codified in legislation during the 2023 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature (SB 150, 2023), President Passidomo developed the Florida Safe Schools Canine Program for the purpose of designating a person, school, or business entity as a Florida Safe Schools Canine Partner who pays for or raises funds for a law enforcement agency to purchase, train, or care for a firearm detection dog.

The President observed firearm detection dogs at work in Marion County Schools through program created by Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods and sought to expand the program statewide, including $4 million in funding to assist fiscally constrained counties with the development of a program.

Firearm safety canines contribute to a safe and welcoming school community, furthering a community-wide investment and engagement in school safety and public safety initiatives. The program seeks to foster relationships between schools, local businesses, and law enforcement, promoting trust and confidence in the ability of law enforcement to keep schools and communities safe.  Firearm dogs act as liaisons between students and law enforcement agencies and serve as ambassadors for a law enforcement agency to improve community engagement. K-12 schools and students are encouraged to partner with law enforcement to fundraise in the local community for donations to purchase, train, or care for the dog. The cost to purchase and train a firearm safety canine ranges from $8,000 to $15,000. 

President Passidomo’s Portrait Unveiling

Today’s ceremony was attended by the First Gentleman of the Florida Senate, Mr. John Passidomo, President Passidomo’s husband of more than 45 years. Mr. Passidomo is the first, first Gentleman of the Senate.

President Passidomo is the 90th Senate President since statehood. Under current practice, her portrait will hang in the Senate Chamber for 100 years and will then be retired to the Historic Capitol and eventually to the state archives.

President Passidomo’s portrait was created by Steven Davis of Leon Loard Commissioned Portraits. Artists from Leon Loard also crafted the portraits of Senate Presidents Jennings, King, Lee, Pruitt, Atwater, Gaetz, Gardiner, Negron, Galvano and Simpson. In the portrait, President Passidomo is wearing a liberty eagle lapel pin given to her by President Toni Jennings, the same pin President Jennings is wearing in her own portrait.

As President Passidomo’s portrait was hung in the Senate Chamber, the Senate retired the portrait of President John Stansel Taylor, Sr. President Taylor was born near the settlement of Largo in 1871. His family owned and operated a large citrus estate. He served in the Florida House of Representatives in the 1905 Session and introduced the legislation to incorporate the City of Largo. In November of 1920, John S. Taylor was elected to represent Senate District 11 and he immediately began introducing bills to encourage the growth of Pinellas County. He was elected President for the 1925 Session. Florida’s population had just broken through the one million mark. President Taylor left the Senate in 1927 and passed away in 1936.

About President Passidomo

Senator Kathleen C. Passidomo, 70, was elected to the Florida Senate in November 2016 after serving in the Florida House of Representatives since 2010. Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) appointed her to serve as Chair of the Senate Committee on Rules for the 2020-2022 Legislative Term. During the 2018-2020 Legislative Term, she served as Republican (Majority) Leader under former Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton).

Senator Passidomo graduated in 1975 from Trinity College (now University) in Washington, D.C. In December 1978, she received her law degree from Stetson University’s College of Law. She built a law practice around Real Estate and Business Law and has been practicing law in Naples for more than 40 years. Senator Passidomo was in the first group of attorneys in the state to obtain Board Certification in Real Estate Law, and her peers elected her to serve as President of both the Collier County Bar Association and the Collier County Women’s Bar Association.

Senator Passidomo and her husband John married in 1979. Together, they have three adult daughters, Catarina, Francesca, and Gabriella, and two grandsons, William and Emilio.

The Senate President will continue to serve in the Senate, representing District 28, including Collier, Henry and portions of Lee County until her term expires at the 2026 General Election.

History of Women Presidents of the Florida Senate

In 1990, Senator Gwen Margolis (D-Miami), a former realtor, became the first woman to serve as President of the Florida Senate. President Margolis retired from the Senate in 2016, concluding more than four decades of elected service in state and local government. She passed away on June 9, 2020, at the age of 85.

In 1986, Senator Toni Jennings (R-Orlando), a former elementary school teacher who later ran her family’s construction business, became the first woman to lead the Senate Republican Caucus, serving as Minority Leader during the 1986-1988 Legislative Term. Elected Senate President in 1996, she is the only person in modern history elected to serve two consecutive terms in the role. She later became the first woman to serve as Lt. Governor. President Jennings, 73, retired from elected office in 2007, upon the conclusion of her term as Lt. Governor. She continues to reside in Central Florida.

Presidents Margolis, Jennings, and Passidomo have each been inducted into the Florida’s Women’s Hall of Fame.