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State tackles hospital meetings

NATCHEZ — Limiting the language in a bill to put hospital board meetings under the state’s Open Meetings Act was not done to circumvent the law, but to save the bill, the chairman of the House’s health committee said Thursday.

Senate Bill 2407, as it passed the full Senate, would have made hospital board meetings subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Currently, that act allows those boards’ meetings to be conducted in private.

State Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb, whose district includes Adams County, chairs the House Committee on Public Health and Human Services.

The version of SB 2407 that passed that committee Tuesday would make only one hospital subject to the act — Singing River in Pascagoula.

That hospital, Singing River in Pascagoula, has recently been in the news regarding problems with its pension system.

“The intent of the version we passed was to get the bill out of the (health) committee so it can go to conference,” Mims said.

Under that system, the leadership of the Legislature would appoint three representatives and three senators to a committee that would work out what language they would like in the bill.

Once the committee decides on that language, the bill can go before the full Senate and House for approval. Final adoption of conference reports is March 30.

“We (committee members) thought this bill was so important that we didn’t want it to die in committee,” Mims said. “Our deadline to pass it was Tuesday night. We wanted this bill to stay alive so we could study it further.”

He said he hopes that the resulting legislation balances the need for transparency while keeping efforts to recruit doctors and other staff confidential until such people are hired.

“We don’t want to do anything that would hurt hospitals’ ability to recruit,” Mims added.

State senators representing Adams and surrounding counties said they voted for the broader Senate version on principle.

State Sen. Kelvin Butler, D-Magnolia, said that to him, voting for the original, bill was a no brainer.

“I was definitely supportive of it, because I believe that the more information the public has access to, the better,” Butler said. “People deserve to know what’s going on.”

That was a sentiment State Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, echoed.

“The leadership (of the Legislature) and I believe things work better when there’s transparency and accountability,” Sojourner said.

State Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

For information on that and other bills before the State Legislature in 2015, visit its Web page at http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/2015/pdf/mainmenu.htm.

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