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Senate panel votes to let nurse practitioners prescribe drugs, not practice independently


A Senate bill that would give highly trained nurses more authority, but not the independence they truly want, passed narrowly at its first committee stop today.

SB 1352 would allow specialized nurses with graduate degrees to prescribe controlled substances and involuntarily institutionalize patients with mental health issues. The Health Policy Committee approved the bill on a razor thin 5-4 vote with Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the issue.

A separate proposal in the House, HB 7071, would allow nurse practitioners to practice without a supervising doctor. But that bill is an even tougher sell in the Senate, where members have strong ties to the Florida Medical Association that is dead-set against these measures.

Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, said the changes in SB 1352 are needed to address Florida's doctor shortage and implement changes that virtually every other state has already adopted. "We are the last state in the nation to pass this legislation," she said.

But other senators disagreed that expanding the scope of practice for highly trained nurses is the best way to address Florida's health care workforce issues. Doctors have attended medical school and received the training needed to perform certain duties that nurses have not, said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, the Hollywood Democrat who voted against the bill.

"We need to conquer the widespread use of controlled substances, not to expand them," Sobel said.

The business community, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida, is supporting the efforts to give highly trained nurses more powers. But the powerful FMA, representing doctors, is opposed.

SB 1352 and HB 7071 each have two more committee stops before they are ready for a floor vote.