FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) – A contentious pension bill passed out of the House Standing Committee on State Government Thursday.
The committee room was tense. The chair, Rep. Jerry Miller, (R) Louisville, threatened to remove people multiple times, but ultimately didn’t.
Chants could be heard coming from the hallway as a room in the Capitol annex overflowed with teachers wearing red.
Bill sponsor Representative Ken Upchurch said the bill, which changes the make up of a board that oversees teacher pensions, gives teachers outside the Kentucky Education Association more say in the system. Those are people he says represents about two thirds of the retirement system-opposed to KEA members.
“I filed House bill 525 in an effort to give educators more say,” Upchurch said.
Thursday’s passage comes despite the presence of thousands of teachers from across the Commonwealth who packed the Capitol to protest House Bill 525, which would impact the management of the state retirement system.
This is happening after JCPS and seven other school districts across the state canceled classes Thursday due to thousands of teacher sick calls. A JCPS spokeswoman said 35 percent of the district’s teachers were among those who called out.
As it stands, the Kentucky Education Association nominates 7 of 11 board members. HB 525 would drop that number to just a few out of 13 total.
It would give other education groups nominating powers, including the JCTA, Kentucky Association of Professional Educators and other groups including retirees.
KEA President Stephanie Winkler said many of those groups already participate in the process under the KEA’s leadership.
Board members representing teacher voices would stand at 8 out of 13, diluting the influence of those few KEA members still on the board under the bill.
The bill would also add new positions chosen by the governor- including one from choices provided by a certified public accountant association.
“The Kentucky Society of Certified Public Accountants has no interest, did not want to be named in this bill and does not like the fact that their association name has been put in this bill, and requests that it be removed,” Stephanie Winkler, KEA President, said.
Some members of the committee called the legislation retaliation against teachers for protesting a pension bill last session.
Opponents of the bill added that the current management system performs well and said, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
“The difference between 120 Strong and Frankfort is we listen to the rank and we’re grass roots baby,” Nema Brewer, the Co-founder of KY 120 Strong, said.
Some have called the sick-outs premature because they bill had yet to be read on the floor of the House, heading into the committee hearing.
Protesters said they wanted to get involved early to prevent what happened last year with the sewer bill.
Brewer said the issues teachers face are much bigger than the make up of a pension board.
“This is a yearlong process of tomfoolery and shenanigans by Frankfort,” Brewer said. “They take take take. They chip away. That’s what they’re doing, this is a death by 1000 cuts.”
The bill would still have to make it through both the house and senate.
Legislators said they’re open to making changes to the bill moving forward.
To read House Bill 525 in its entirety, click here.