- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Business operations of publicly owned hospitals would be open to greater public scrutiny under a bill that unanimously passed the Mississippi Senate on Thursday.

The bill specifies that boards of public hospitals must abide by the state Open Meetings law. It also says hospital board members must live in the same county where the hospital is located.

Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, said legislation was prompted by problems at the Singing River Health System in Jackson County. The hospital revealed last year that it had secretly stopped putting money into the employee pension fund in 2009. Some workers say their retirement plans are ruined because of bad financial management by people they had trusted.

Wiggins said such problems might have been avoided if the public and the media already had access to hospital board meetings that are frequently closed.

“I think that what happened at Singing River has brought home the problems, the issues, the disastrous effects of non-transparency,” Wiggins said.

The Senate bill says hospital boards could close meetings for the same reasons as other public bodies, including hiring employees. The bill moves to the House for more work.

A separate bill that was prompted by the Singing River problems passed the House unanimously Jan. 28 and awaits debate in the Senate Finance Committee.

The bill would require most government pension systems to prepare annual reports with financial and actuarial statements. The reports also would have to describe any major changes in the program. The documents would be public records and would have to be sent to people enrolled in the pension plan.

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Online: Senate Bill 2407 https://bit.ly/1zyitld and House Bill 871 https://bit.ly/1F36Jze .

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


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