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Every day, hundreds of sick and injured patients walk into free and charitable clinics around the Tampa Bay area in need of a doctor.Many are suffering from chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Some patients were referred to the clinics by staff at hospitals where they landed after years of neglecting to care for treatable conditions.The clinics allow the patients to pay what they can, or nothing at all. They are staffed by doctors and nurses who volunteer their time. They survive off donations and small grants.Many of the patients have jobs but they are living paycheck to paycheck. None have health insurance, either because they do not qualify for Medicaid or can’t afford private coverage. For these patients, the clinics are often their only option for primary care.

At the Capitol: Texting Ban, Baker Act, Guns

The Senate unanimously approved a ban on texting-while-driving this morning, the Tampa Bay Times reports. The bill's next stop is the House. 

On Monday, a Senate panel rejected a measure that would permit nurse practitioners to examine patients involuntarily under the Baker Act, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Instead of expanding the power of nurse practitioners when it comes to mental health, the panel instead approved an amendment that calls for a group to study the Baker Act itself.

Another Senate panel approved a bill that would prohibit people who receive mental health treatment voluntarily from purchasing guns, the Lakeland Ledger reports. Currently, only people who get treatment involuntarily are added to a national database and prevented from buying guns. The National Rifle Association’s Florida chairwoman supported the bill.

Meantime, the Florida Health Care Association and AARP (one of the strongest lobbying forces in the country) are urging lawmakers to vote against a bill that would allow The Villages to add more nursing home beds, the Tampa Bay Times reports. The bill calls for an exemption to state rules only for the giant retirement community, owned by a private developer, but no one else.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.