Kentucky lawmakers address pension crisis in long-awaited special session

The Kentucky General Assembly began a long-anticipated special session
Gov. Matt Bevin is seeking to win the GOP nomination as he runs for a second term in office (Source: Sean Baute, WAVE 3 News).
Gov. Matt Bevin is seeking to win the GOP nomination as he runs for a second term in office (Source: Sean Baute, WAVE 3 News).

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The Kentucky General Assembly began a long-anticipated special session Friday morning.

Lawmakers said the goal is to provide relief to quasi-government agencies that saw a spike in pension costs this month.

That includes places like mental health and rape crisis centers, some public health agencies and regional universities.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin in April vetoed a bill that would have provided that help. At the time, he said he’d call a special session to fix the problem in a way he saw fit.

At the start of July, lawmakers missed a deadline to come up with new rules which sent pension costs for quasi government agencies from 49 percent to 84 percent of payroll.

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Thursday, in a proclamation that set the limits of a special session, Bevin laid out very specific guidelines for lawmakers.

The guidelines would give employers a year to decide to leave the pension system by paying their way out gradually or in a lump sum or stay in and face increased costs.

Republican leaders in the House said that’s Bevin’s job, but the democratic minority said it makes a mockery of the legislative process.

“I think the governors’ attempt to narrow the call to try to restrict the debate on a very important issue, where there’s been a tremendous amount of work taking place, I do believe it challenges separation of powers,” Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said.

Countered House Speaker David Osborne: “It’s (Bevin’s) prerogative to do so. I think section 80 of the constitution clearly gives him that ability. Our legislative independence is, as the speaker pro tem said, is whether or not we pass it or not.”

Three bills were introduced and sent to committee Friday by House Republicans, including legislation proposed by the minority party Democrats.

"They all got a first reading, which is encouraging to me that would hopefully send a signal that maybe amendments will be welcomed," Adkins said.

Adkins said democratic plans would freeze lower rates over a 24 year period, and do away with an opt-out system.

"Certainly, we're open to all thoughts and ideas, but again the call is going to limit us," Osborne said, when asked about considering ideas sponsored by Democrats.

Day two of the special session will continue Saturday with committee hearings.

When the narrowness of Bevin’s special session proclamation was criticized, House Republican leaders fired back, stating former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear did something similar in 2018, putting forth the exact language of a bill that was sponsored by Adkins.

Adkins said that bill was not as controversial as the current one being debated, the chambers of the legislature had divided leadership and only one lawmaker across both voted against the measure.

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