- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Only one publicly owned hospital in Mississippi would be required to abide by the state open-meetings and public-records laws, under a watered-down version of a bill that passed a House committee Tuesday.

Senate Bill 2407 was prompted by massive problems with the employee pension plan at Singing River Hospital in Jackson County, and that’s the only hospital remaining in the latest version of the bill, which now goes to the full House for debate.

The Senate voted 51-0 on Feb. 12 to pass a broader version of the bill, which would have applied to all public hospitals.

The Mississippi Press Association supports the broad version of the bill, saying the public should have access to meetings and records that show how tax dollars are being spent.

“Transparency should apply to all public hospitals, not just the ones that have been put in a corner for naughty behavior,” Layne Bruce, the press association’s executive director, said in a statement Tuesday.

The Mississippi Hospital Association opposes making any hospital subject to transparency laws. The group’s president and CEO, Tim Moore, said in a statement Tuesday that he appreciates the House committee’s decision to limit the scope of the bill.

“The hospital association continues to support exclusion of public hospitals from the Open Meetings Act,” Moore said. “This is not a stand against transparency but a stand to preserve a level playing field for public hospitals in a very competitive environment.”

Rep. John Read, R-Gautier, said some legislators didn’t want to make any public hospital follow the transparency laws.

“The hospital association has clout,” Read said after the House committee meeting Tuesday.

Under the Senate version of the bill, boards of public hospitals would be able to close meetings for the same reasons that city councils or other public boards can close them, including discussion of litigation, personnel matters and the purchase or sale of land. Patients’ medical information would remain confidential, even if public hospitals eventually are told to follow the open-meetings and public-records laws.

It is unclear whether the full House will agree to the updated version of the bill. If it does, the bill is most likely headed to a final round of negotiations between the two chambers, and it could be changed there.

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Online: Senate Bill 2407 http://bit.ly/1M3GVSK

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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