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Baker Act bill passes, giving Dade Democrats first legislative win

A proposal to give nurse practitioners the authority to Baker Act mentally ill patients passed the House on Monday, and is headed to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

Sponsored by Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, it was a rare legislative victory for the Democratic half of the large Miami-Dade County delegation of lawmakers. It’s the only substantive bill chiefly sponsored by a Miami-Dade Democrat to make the trek to the Governor’s desk so far this session.

The bill, HB 1195, would allow nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to sign off on detaining and examining a dangerous or suicidal mentally ill patient under the Baker Act.

Under current law, doctors and other health professionals can Baker Act, but nurse practitioners can not.

Campbell, a nurse, said nurse practitioners are well qualified to use the procedure and need to be equipped to act in hospital settings when mentally ill people become dangers to themselves and others.

“When nurse practitioners or physician assistants are the only health care providers on duty, they often must call law enforcement to evaluate the patient,” she said. The bill passed 115-0 and has already passed the Senate.

The Baker Act was used 136,120 times in 2009 and there are currently 13,519 active, licensed nurse practitioners in Florida.

At seven members strong, Miami-Dade has the Florida House’s largest contingent of Democrats, although their ranks shrunk by one member last month when Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach, resigned amid scandal.

It’s a sign of the weakened stance of Democrats in the Florida Legislature, where Republicans outnumber them 2-1.