JEFFERSON CITY - The bill to toughen the state's Open Meetings Law may be heading for a legislative speed bump.
After easily clearing the Missouri Senate, an effort is being suggested on the House side to use the bill as a vehicle to close some government records.
The bill, unanimously passed the Senate last month, is now before the House Civil and Administrative Committee.
The committee chairman, Rep. Philip Smith, D-Louisiana, has sponsored similar legislation, but with a twist. Smith's bill would allow public hospitals to close its meetings and records that pertain to long-term strategic plans, managed care contracts or doctor's salaries.
Smith said he will add an amendment on to the Senate bill to include his House proposal to exclude public hospitals from some portions of the Open Meetings Law.
"I'm about 100 percent sure that we'll attach that amendment," Smith said.
Smith was able get his own bill out of his committee, but too late for guaranteed House consideration.
Members from the Missouri Hospital Association have testified in favor of Smith's bill. Barbara Long, spokeswoman for Missouri Hospital Association, said these exemptions would level the playing field.
"This is very specific closure of very specific discussions," Long said.
By having the records open, she said, private hospitals have the ability to lure doctors away or change their bids on certain contracts because public hospitals must keep their records open.
However, the Missouri Press Association, said it would not continue to support the bill if that amendment was attached.
"Our support would turn quickly if the hospital records are added on," said Doug Crews, executive director of the Missouri Press Association.
Crews spoke in favor of the bill that did not have the hospital provision added on.
In Columbia, Boone Hospital Center also has favored closing records for the three specific reasons. Although the hospital does not have open records because it is leased by BJC Health System, a corporation out of St. Louis, it does have a local board of trustees.
"How can you compete in a one-sided situation like that?" said Lynn Hostetler, manager of communications and media information for Boone Hospital Center.
Hostetler said even though the legislation would not change Boone Hospital Center's policy, he does see the need for these records to be closed.
"There are a lot of hospitals in rural areas that would be required to disclose employee contracts with physicians," Hostetler said. "That's the kind of thing that would make physicians reluctant to accept positions in under served areas."
Columbia's Senator, Democrat Ken Jacob, has sponsored a separate Senate bill to provide the closed-record provision for hospital records.