Health Dept. bill moves through Miss. House; negotiations likely

Published 4:48 pm Friday, March 2, 2007

A bill that would restructure the state Board of Health and oust the current state health officer is likely headed to final negotiations between the two chambers of the Mississippi Legislature.

The House voted 111-2 on Thursday for its own version of the bill.

Both chambers have voted to let the 14-member Board of Health go out of existence on June 30, the final day of the current budget year. A new board would go into place on July 1.

The Senate plan, which was approved by that chamber Feb. 6, would create a seven-member board, with appointments made by the governor and lieutenant governor.

The House plan would create a nine-member board with appointments being made by the governor, the lieutenant governor and the attorney general.

The most substantial difference in the two versions of the bill is who would get to hire and fire the state health officer.

The Senate version would allow the governor to chose the health officer from a list of candidates submitted by the Board of Health. The House version would allow the board to choose.

The current state health officer, Dr. Brian Amy, has been sharply criticized for months over alleged shortcomings in his leadership since 2002, including claims that the agency failed to inform Mississippians about suspected outbreaks of West Nile virus.

State Rep. Clayton Smith, R-Brandon, voted “present” on the bill Thursday, meaning his vote did not count for or against the measure. Smith’s wife, Mary Kim Smith, is on the current Board of Health.

On Wednesday, other board members removed Mary Kim Smith from the chairmanship after she had missed two meetings. Mary Kim Smith has been one of Amy’s closest allies on the Board of Health.

The bill is Senate Bill 2764.