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No Vote On Pension Bill As Teachers, State Workers Protest

Ryland Barton

After teachers and other public workers descended on the state Capitol Friday to protest a bill overhauling Kentucky’s pension systems, the state Senate decided to not take a vote on the measure.

Senate President Robert Stivers said as late as Thursday evening that there were enough votes to pass the bill, which would alter benefits for state workers, especially teachers.

But after hours of closed-door meetings on Friday, Stivers said the Senate’s Republican majority wanted more time to consider the issue.

“Our caucus members want to have a full discussion about the implications of the bill,” Stivers said.

Senate Bill 1 was sent back to the State and Local Government Committee, which could alter the legislation in order to address the concerns of lawmakers and public workers who are opposed to the bill.

Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, a Democrat from Pikeville, gave credit for the bill’s postponement to the protesters who rallied outside of the Senate all day.

“This fight is not over, it is far from over,” Jones said. “Next week you need to have 1,000 teachers here and you need to let them hear it louder than ever.”

The current version of the bill would move future teachers out of defined benefit pensions —which guarantee benefits from retirement until death — and into “hybrid” cash balance retirement plans.

The cash-balance plans grow depending on the stock market and the state would guarantee that the plans wouldn’t lose money.

State workers hired since Jan. 1, 2014 already receive cash-balance plans that guarantee retirement accounts grow by at least 4 percent every year. But under Senate Bill 1, those workers and future hires would no longer get the guaranteed rate of return, only a promise that the accounts won’t lose money.

Retired teacher cost of living adjustments would also be reduced from 1.5 percent to 1 percent until the teacher pension system is 90 percent funded, which could take about 20 years.

Jones speculated that lawmakers from rural areas were feeling pressure to vote against the bill.

“This is a very unpopular concept when you get outside of some of the urban areas in Kentucky,” Jones said. “Your school boards are your biggest employers in almost every small county. Public education touches almost every life in rural Kentucky.”

Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear has said he wouldn’t defend the bill if it became law and was challenged in court.

After sending the bill back to committee, Senate President Stivers said it would be “difficult” to pass the bill in its current form.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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