Mississippi coast legislators say greater transparency will be at the top of their agenda during this legislative session. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, that transparency spans a number of areas, from insurance data, to state contracting, to public meetings.
Representative Sonya Williams Barnes, a Democrat from Gulfport, says the coast delegation wants more information on property insurance rates. They're pushing for a bill that would require insurance companies to report – by zip code – how much they collect in premiums and pay out in claims.
"After Katrina, everyone has experienced higher rates," she says. "So we are attempting to move some legislation that will help coast residents and other throughout the state as well."
Senator Sean Tindell, a Republican from Gulfport, says insurance premiums for many coast residents have doubled if not tripled or more since Hurricane Katrina.
"Forever you've heard the insurance companies say, well, it's because there's more risk down there," he says. "Well, if the numbers show that there's more claims being paid out in other parts of the state than there is on the coast, then that throws their argument out the window. For years, they've hid behind confidential numbers to justify their rates on the coast, and all we're saying is, hey, let us see the numbers."
Other transparency matters closely watched on the coast include state contracting, in the spotlight after a recent corruption case allegedly involving a contractor used by the Harrison County Utility Authority. Some coast legislators have also said they want to remove the exemption given to public hospitals from the Open Meetings Act. That's become an issue in light of the pension crisis at a Jackson County hospital.
"Every chance we get, we ought to be about letting the sun shine in," says Representative David Baria, a Democrat from Bay St. Louis. "This is the people's goverment, not some bureacrat in Jackson's government."