FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - In less than eight hours, Kentucky republican legislators were able to do something they had failed to do during the entire 2018 session.
A last-minute bill to overhaul the state's pension system flew through the Kentucky General Assembly on Thursday. It is now heading to the governor's desk.
In a well-coordinated move, GOP lawmakers surprised opponents when they pushed the bill through a conference committee then quickly battled through votes in both the house and senate, sometimes over angry objections from lawmakers claiming there had not been enough time to read the 291-page bill.
Introduced by Rep. Bam Carney (R-Campbellsville) on Thursday morning, Senate Bill 151 quickly passed out of committee.
The original Senate Bill 151 was a proposal related to wastewater services. It was substituted with the pension proposal.
SB 151 keeps benefits the same for current teachers and state workers, but changes new hires to a hybrid cash balance plan.
It also freezes sick days at the end of each fiscal year.
Outside the house and senate, teachers and other pension reform opponents chanted loudly and could be heard clearly inside each chamber as votes were taken.
"Earlier today Kentuckians got a lesson in how to abuse the democratic system," a statement from the Kentucky Education Association read. "It's certainly not a lesson we would ever teach in school."
"This was a dark day for representative democracy in Frankfort," Jim Carroll, Kentucky Government Retirees President, said.
Similar comments were made by democrats and other opponents of the pension reform bill.
"This is government at its worst," tweeted Attorney General Andy Beshear.
The bill passed in the house with a vote of 49 to 46. While those 49 votes were all from republicans, 11 GOP representatives voted against the bill. Five representatives did not vote.
After several motions failed to stop a vote in the senate, lawmakers debated for more than an hour. In the end, SB 151 passed with a vote of 22 to 15. Five republicans opposed the bill. No democrats voted yes.
Many representatives spoke out against the bill on the house and senate floor, pushing back against the hurried nature of the voting procedure. Those who voted no said no one really knows what's in the bill.
Rep. Jim Wayne (D-Louisville) called the bill illegal.
The bill has not been reviewed by actuaries, so lawmakers do not know how the bill will financially impact the retirement system. Carney said lawmakers expect it to save $300 million over 30 years.
"Tonight 49 members of the Kentucky House and 22 members of the Kentucky Senate voted not to keep kicking the pension problem down the road," Gov. Matt Bevin said in a tweet. "Anyone who will receive a retirement check in the years ahead owes a deep debt of gratitude to these 71 men and women who did the right thing."
Supporters of pension reform said this latest version of the bill restores the cost of living adjustment for teacher retirees at 1.5%, one of the largest points of contention in previous discussions.
Pension reform now goes to the governor's desk where he is expected to sign the bill into law.