After Gov. Matt Bevin called a surprise legislative session on Monday afternoon, state lawmakers traveled to Frankfort and began working on a new attempt to overhaul the state’s pension systems.
Following hours of closed-door discussion, Republican leaders of the legislature filed two different versions of a new pension bill. One is similar to legislation struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court and the other is a new proposal brought by Gov. Matt Bevin.
Acting House Speaker David Osborne said that lawmakers were trying to move quickly on the legislation ahead of the holidays and before the end of outgoing lawmakers’ terms.
“We’re going to find out very quickly what all is a part of this proposal, we’re going to get our members input, we’re going to get public feedback and we’re not going to waste any time here,” Osborne said.
The special legislative session comes days after the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously struck down the Republican-led legislature’s last effort to alter retirement benefits for most future and some current state workers.
The court said that Republican lawmakers violated the state constitution by rushing the pension bill to passage without following proper procedures.
Gov. Matt Bevin and other Republican leaders criticized the court’s ruling last week. Bevin accused the seven justices on the Supreme Court of making the ruling for political reasons.
Then, in a surprise announcement on Monday afternoon, Bevin called the special legislative session, giving lawmakers only 4 hours notice ahead of the 8:00 p.m. start time.
House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, a Democrat from Sandy Hook, said that Democrats didn’t receive notice of the session until Bevin’s announcement.
“This is the same type of action, the same type of mockery of the process that was done during this last session that a supreme court just ruled 7-0 on how that bill was passed, how the public was shut out,” Adkins said.
Teachers and other state workers held massive rallies in Frankfort earlier this year to protest pension legislation, and a group of protestors packed into the House gallery on Monday to voice displeasure with the special session.
The Kentucky Education Association teachers union issued a statement calling Bevin’s announcement a “reactionary public temper tantrum.”
“Our state’s financial future will never improve if we keep wasting tax payer dollars on governing ‘around’ the people instead of ‘with’ them,” KEA President Stephanie Winkler wrote. “Trying to repeat the same mistakes of the last legislative session is not in the best interests of our public employees, their families, or the communities they serve.”
Louisville Republican Rep. Jerry Miller is the primary sponsor of both of the new pension measures — though he says one is primarily the proposal of Gov. Matt Bevin.
Miller said House Bill 1, the legislature’s proposal, is much like the pension bill that was recently struck down by the Supreme Court, though it doesn’t include a “level-dollar funding” provision — a requirement that the legislature put large contributions to the pension systems every year.
House Bill 2 — what Miller called “Bevin’s proposal” — also includes elements of the old pension bill. But Miller said it also includes a provision that reduces a multiplying benefit for teachers who work for more than 30 years. It also eases back pension contribution payments for local governments and universities.
Both of the new pension bills will be discussed during a meeting of the House State Government Committee in Frankfort at 1 pm on Tuesday. The meeting will be streamed live on KET.