Gov. Matt Bevin said Monday he hasn’t ruled out calling a special legislative session to overhaul Kentucky’s ailing public pension systems before the end of the year, despite a request from dozens of Republican lawmakers to put off the issue until January.
“Is it still possible? Yes,” Bevin told reporters Monday. “Will it happen? We’ll see.”
Bevin’s comment is a significant change in tune for the Republican governor, who in an interview with Terry Meiners on WHAS radio last month was adamant a special session would happen in 2017.
“I’ve said I’m going to call a special session; I am going to call a special session,” Bevin told Meiners. “I said I would do it this year; it will happen this year.”
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With the holidays approaching, Bevin is running out of time. His political authority on the issue is also dwindling.
Last week, during the annual House Republican Caucus retreat, 47 lawmakers signed a letter asking Bevin not to call a special session. The letter included a separate page in which all four members of House Republican leadership asked the governor to consider the request.
On Monday, Bevin was dismissive of the letter.
“I get letters, I probably get a thousand letters every month,” Bevin said. “That’s one of them. I appreciate it. People have good reasons for writing the letters they do, I read as many of them as I can. Every one of them gets read by somebody.”
Only a governor can call a special legislative session and set its agenda. Lawmakers would determine how long it lasts, at a cost to taxpayers of about $60,000 a day.
Meanwhile, lawmakers will convene in Frankfort for a 60-workday regular legislative session on Jan. 2, prompting many to say a special session is no longer needed.
Bevin, though, still isn’t ruling out calling lawmakers to Frankfort before Christmas.
“There’s absolutely a chance,” Bevin said. “The key to understand is this, there’s nothing magical about getting it done on a particular date or in a particular month or whether it’s in a special session or not. It has been my intention without question, and I have been clear as I can possibly be for months about the fact to get this done in a special session, if that was the intent, and that has been and continues to be the intent.”
Bevin’s initial pension reform package was fiercely opposed by public employees throughout the state, leaving Republican leaders in the House and Senate to craft a compromise they think rank-and-file GOP members will support.
“What we’re gonna do is get ready with a bill proposal that we can put out to the public in the near future so we can get input back on that and hopefully … have something to pass whenever we either go into a special session or a regular session,” said House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, in late November. “And that’s what we’re continuing to work on.”
That effort has been derailed by an ongoing sexual harassment scandal that ensnared four GOP House members, including Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, who resigned as speaker of the House. On Monday, a new sexual misconduct allegation was added when the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published a story that said state Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Bullitt, was accused in 2012 of molesting a teenage girl. The Republican Party of Kentucky quickly called for Johnson to resign.
“It’s important to also understand that when things happen, and lord knows all the shenanigans that have been going on in the House have not helped the cause at all, they really haven’t and that’s a reality that has to be dealt with,” Bevin said.