Flowers kills bill to change open meetings law for airport authority

Published 10:32 pm Saturday, March 15, 2008

A bill that sought a change in Mississippi’s Open Meetings Law to keep secret airport authorities’ talks with business prospects is dead for the session and possibly the next four years, a key lawmaker says.

Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Merle Flowers, R-Southaven, said he declined to bring the bill up for a vote and his committee won’t meet again before a legislative deadline on Tuesday.

“We met yesterday,” Flowers said on Friday. “I exercised my pocket veto, which killed the bill. It’s dead now and will be dead for at least four years while I’m chairman.”

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The bill, which had been passed by the House, would permit members of airport authorities to meet with airlines, cargo lines and other commercial prospects without a public meeting. The proposal also would exempt such meetings held outside Mississippi.

The change was wanted by the Gulfport-Biloxi Regional Airport.

“It’s completely contrary to what the Senate passed a month ago. We need more strength in the Open Meetings Law and more sunshine. This bill would have provided a cloud cover and less sunshine,” Flowers said.

Lawmakers have provided similar exemptions to the Open Meetings Law, primarily involving meetings in which trade secrets might be discussed.

Bruce Frallic, executive director of Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, has said the authority needs the freedom to recruit prospects in other cities and states. Because the Open Meetings Act requires that public meetings be accessible, the commission is unable to meet in other locations.

The Gulfport-Biloxi authority has three commissioners, so two constitute a quorum. Frallic currently is able to take only one board member on business trips.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a bill that gives the public and media more access to incident reports filed by law enforcement agencies.

The bill defines an incident report and an investigative report, which current law does not do. The bill makes incident reports public.

The bills are House Bill 972 and Senate Bill 2728.