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Opposing sides meet to discuss Sunshine Bill

May 01, 2000
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau
Links: SB 858

JEFFERSON CITY - The state's General Assembly is on track to using the proposed tougher Sunshine legislation to close some records pertaining to public hospitals.

On Monday, members from the North Kansas City Hospital, Missouri Hospital Association and Missouri Press Association met to discuss their differences with the proposed legislation awaiting action by the full House.

With only two weeks left in the legislative session, the House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, devoted two hours to the informal meeting. In an act rarely done by a House speaker, Gaw acted as a mediator between the two sides, in an effort to reach a compromise.

The parties disagreed on three specific parts of the bill.

First, some of the language was criticized as being too general according to the Press Association.

"Specifically, it's overly broad," said Doug Crews, executive director of the Missouri Press Association.

The two sides decided to remove some terminology in an effort to close any holes that might be used as a way to keep even more records closed. Since some terms used were not defined, there was no way to know what was meant by those particular words.

Next, the hospital members wanted to keep the language in the proposed bill that would allow contracts with doctors and HMOs to be kept confidential for up to two years after the termination of the contract. Current law requires that once the negotiations of the contract have been finalized, it will be open for the public.

The hospital representatives argued that because public hospitals must release how much it pays to doctors and HMOs, there is not a level playing field with private hospitals. The private hospitals have access to the amounts and can lure doctors and HMOs for larger amounts.

"How many chess games would you win if your opponent knew every move you were going to make?" asked David Carpenter, president of North Kansas City Hospital.

The Press Association argued that two years was too long, and opted for one year after the contract ended.

Crews said the public should have an input on how their tax dollars are spent at public hospitals. He said it would be unfair for taxpayers to pay for facilities to be built, but never the opportunity to speak on the issue.

Although no compromise was reached on the time when a contract should become public, some progress was made.

Both sides agreed to require hospitals to post 30 days in advance what it plans on discussing at the meeting. Specifically, if the hospital board will talk anything regarding building or tearing down health facilities. This will give the public the opportunity to voice their opinion regarding the issue.