Immunity for free clinics approved by House panel

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2001

[01/31/01] Legislation to give lawsuit immunity to charities that provide medical clinics squeaked through the process Tuesday on the final day for committee action.

If either eventually passes and is signed by the governor, House Bill 822 or Senate Bill 2392 will give protection to church clinics from lawsuits for alleged negligence. Doctors and nurses who provide free services at such clinics are already shielded, but there is no protection provided for the sponsors of the clinics, meaning they face expensive malpractice premiums.

The committee action “says that the Legislature is ready to provide immunity to churches so they can continue to provide those medical services,” said Rep. George Flaggs.

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Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, is the author of the House bill that will go before the entire House. Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, sponsored the similar bill in the Senate.

Acts of willful misconduct or gross negligence would not be shielded under the law.

Flaggs said he hoped the bill would not only provide protection for local clinics such as the one at First Baptist Church, but could also encourage other charities to provide similar clinics across the state.

Any bill not acted on by Tuesday’s deadline is considered dead for this year’s 90-day legislative session.

Bills of local interest that died in Legislative committee Tuesday include:

An act to establish and provide funding for a medical complex at Alcorn State University.

A bill by Flaggs that would have reduced the number of non-violent criminals housed in the state penitentiary by making them eligible for parole earlier.

A bill that would have required trial judges to provide in their written order a reason for recusing themselves from a case.

A bill by Flaggs that would have created a committee to study the feasibility of establishing a state vehicle motorpool.

A House bill by Rep. Chuck Middleton, D-Port Gibson, that would have authorized the Claiborne County Board of Supervisors to supplement the salary of the sheriff.

A Senate bill by Rep. Danny Guice, R-Ocean Springs, that would have made it illegal for city police to enforce the speed limit on interstates.

A bill that would have authorized local school districts to lend educational materials to home-schooled students and provide other benefits.