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GOP Lawmakers Consider Passing Old Pension Bill Again, Despite Bevin’s Wishes

Ryland Barton
Kentucky Public Radio

As lawmakers continue to navigate Gov. Matt Bevin’s surprise special legislative session, Republican leaders of the legislature might double-down on the same pension bill that was struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court last week.

The court didn’t rule that the contents of the legislation were illegal, but rather that lawmakers had violated the state constitution by passing it too quickly and without proper procedures.

Rep. Jerry Miller, a Republican from Louisville, said that Republicans re-elected to the legislature this fall don’t want to distance themselves from the legislation, known as Senate Bill 151.

“There are members of our caucus that defended 151 throughout the campaign and with the exception of those four people I mentioned, they were all re-elected, and they all want to stand on their record as 151 was a good idea,” Miller said.

Miller filed two pension proposals on Monday night and, though he is the official sponsor of the bills, on Tuesday he said both were written by Gov. Matt Bevin’s office.

Those bills both included many elements of the recently-overturned pension law. But they eliminated controversial elements Bevin’s general counsel Steve Pitt said he believed were constitutional but would “likely attract a legal challenge.”

But the version moving through the House now restores many of the elements of Senate Bill 151 that had been removed by Bevin. Miller said House Republicans were confident the legislation would be legal.

“The governor’s bill I’d say was a risk-reward. It’s got the maximum reward in terms of impact for the state, and less of a risk that activist judges would legislate from the bench,” Miller said.

Thousands of teachers and other state workers descended on Frankfort earlier this year to protest the old pension bill, which was unanimously struck down by the court six days ago.

Democrats hoped that opposition to the measure would gin up support for legislative candidates this year, but Republicans only netted a loss of two seats in the House and have been emboldened that the bill isn’t as politically volatile as opponents have suggested.

Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Educators Association teachers union, said that lawmakers were making “different mistakes, but in the same vein.”

“We are still not allowing transparency, we’re not allowing time for people to read things and vote on them and represent both Democrats, Republicans, Independents in their own districts,” Winkler said.

Like the version of the pension bill that was struck down by the Supreme Court, the latest proposal would move future teachers into a “hybrid” 401k-style retirement plan.

Some state workers hired between 2003 and 2008 would have to pay 1 percent of their salaries for retiree health insurance.

And recently-hired state workers would have rates of return in their 401k-style pension funds reduced from 4 percent to 0.

The latest version would also move most effective dates for the pension changes from Jan 1, 2019 to April 1, 2019.

Miller said that it was unlikely an actuarial analysis showing whether the measure would save the state any money would be produced before lawmakers voted.

Jason Bailey, director of the progressive Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said that the plan would produce little to no savings for the state.

“It doesn’t change where we’re headed. The plans will be healthy over time through steady, consistent funding. These benefit cuts, on top of the benefit cuts we had in the past, are not going to make them any healthier,” Bailey said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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