PENDER: House has lobbyist-induced contortion over transparency

The Senate had unanimously passed SB 2407, a bill that would require the boards of publicly owned hospitals to abide by open meetings and open records laws, as the vast majority of states require. The bill, authored by Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, is in response to a Singing River Health Systems pension scandal in Jackson County.

Singing River, without informing employees, stopped paying into the publicly owned hospital’s pension plan in 2009, and its board last year voted to terminate the plan because of — surprise! — a nearly $90 million budget shortfall about which even the county Board of Supervisors claimed to know nothing.

Similar legislation has been pushed before, and complaints about the state’s 46 taxpayer-owned hospitals acting as star chambers are nothing new. But the Mississippi Hospital Association is a powerful lobby, and it claims having the unwashed masses look over public hospitals’ financial records or watching their boards make decisions could put them at a competitive disadvantage. It’s not like these publicly owned hospital boards are making decisions that could affect the lives and livelihoods of people in their communities, right? It’s not like they already have a competitive advantage by being public, right?

The House Public Health Committee amended the Senate bill so that it would apply only to Singing River. That’s right. The financial records and policy decisions of only one public hospital in the state would be open to the public. That’s absurd even by Mississippi legislative standards.

When full-grown lawmakers come up with a “compromise” like that, you know there are some good, strong lobbyists at work. I would love to have heard the House leadership’s strate-gery meeting when they came up with that gem. The amendment should have also renamed the bill the “This Little Light of Mine Act of 2015.”

Clarion Ledger
3/8/15