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Erlanger Hospital is seen from the UTC library's balcony in this Dec. 9, 2014, file photo.

NASHVILLE -- A bill aiming to punish Erlanger Health System trustees for meeting secretly to award $1.7 million in executive bonuses died Wednesday in the House State Government Subcommittee.

The bill, which would have restricted public hospitals' right to meet in secret to discuss strategy, sparked an offensive by other Tennessee public hospitals that also would have been affected. Public hospital officials feared that having to discuss plans in public would offer an edge to their private-sector counterparts.

Erlanger officials declined to comment Wednesday.

Bill sponsor Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, said he took the bill off notice after subcommittee members shot down an amendment basically rewriting the bill.

He said subcommittee members "felt like the actions of Erlanger and ... actions by the statute to correct Erlanger would be punishing the innocent for the acts of the guilty. And they voted it down."

Carter, an attorney, said he doesn't see himself bringing the measure back. But he issued a warning.

"The trouble is all we got is an attorney general's opinion saying that [Erlanger trustees] did wrong. An attorney general's opinion is an attorney general's opinion. I wanted a statute saying you cannot do these things so that the next time, suit could be brought and damages could be given."

Frank Gibson with the Tennessee Press Association said Erlanger is by no means alone in violating both public trust and the law.

"There's more than Erlanger where this law has been violated. They tried to sell a hospital in Unicoi County."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

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