JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - If you put Tuesday's legislative vote in basketball terms, it was a slam dunk for the retirees from Singing River Health System. Both the House and Senate unanimously passed a bill that will require the trustees for publicly owned hospitals to meet in the open, something that has not been done in decades.
This in the wake of the financial turmoil at the Jackson County based health system, where the retirement plan is on the brink of collapse.
When their retirement plan fell apart, these retirees knew it was time for a change. That came Tuesday. Even though the bill that passed is not as strong as the original, it was a major step forward for transparency.
Sen. Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula was the original author of the bill.
"We didn't get 100 percent, but that's the nature of the process. You know, it's better to get 85 percent than nothing. It could have been an easier process in terms of the hospital association working with us," Wiggins said.
The bill also shores up the reporting on public hospital retirement plans. Rep. Hank Zuber of Ocean Springs made sure of that in the House version of the bill.
"The plan participants have to be notified about those changes in addition to receiving annual financial disclosures concerning the viability of the plan," Zuber explained.
Lt. Governor Tate Reeves backed the bill and pushed it forward.
"While some would argue that these issues are limited to the hospital in Jackson County, they're really not. We're having to deal with issues all across our state," Reeves said.
The retirees are elated. One of them is Pablo Garcia.
"We've been fighting this battle for a long, long time. And we put in a lot of time, we put in a lot of effort, not just only over here, but in Pascagoula and Ocean Springs, demonstrating in front of both hospitals," Garcia said.
Another retiree is Brenda Eiland.
"We just had to fight. We deserve our pension and we felt like that we needed to do this so that this wouldn't happen to other people in the future. These are old people. This should never have happened to us," Eiland lamented.
In the high stakes political world we find ourselves in nowadays, where high paid lobbyists and and large corporations dictate much of what happens in the capitol, it's very nice to see for some, a grass roots campaign succeed like this one has.
Just ask Zuber.
"If it was not for the employees, and the the former retirees coming up here, making phone calls, keeping the pressure on to their state representatives and senators, I doubt it very seriously that it would have passed."
We also talked with Governor Phil Bryant and asked him if he plans on signing the transparency bill. The governor said, quoting now, "absolutely."