Politics & Government

‘This is how cowards run a government.’ Teachers, public workers scramble to Capitol.

School teachers, public employees and their supporters quickly mobilized Monday after Republican Gov. Matt Bevin called a special session of the Kentucky legislature to make changes to the state’s pension systems, giving them only four hours notice.

“I think we’ll see at least as good a crowd as we did the night they passed the sewage bill in the first place,” said Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association.

Advocacy groups said they were scrambling to get their members to the Capitol in time to protest the special session, which was scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Anyone who couldn’t make it to Frankfort was urged to call their lawmakers and demand that they adjourn immediately, the groups said.

It would have been better had lawmakers waited until the 2019 General Assembly convened in three weeks so an open, deliberative process involving all interested parties could be used to craft a better pension bill, the groups said.

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A crowd gathered to sing holiday carols in the Kentucky Capitol with lyrics changed to protest governor Matt Bevin’s surprise legislative session Monday evening. Marcus Dorsey mdorsey@herald-leader.com

Bevin and Republican legislative leaders evidently hope to rush a recycled pension bill through the legislative process the week before Christmas before most Kentuckians can understand its contents, said Nema Brewer, co-founder of KY 120 United.

“This is how cowards run a government,” Brewer said. “They’re just raw because they got their hands slapped by the Kentucky Supreme Court for passing a pension bill the last time that was unconstitutional. But we’re headed to Frankfort. We’ll have a presence there. And we’re not happy.”

The Kentucky Education Association also issued a call to its members to drive to the Capitol so they can make their feelings known to lawmakers. During the 2018 legislative session last winter, thousands of teachers packed the Capitol to protest the previous changes proposed to the pension systems in the bill struck down last week by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

“Today’s announcement from Governor Bevin is nothing but a reactionary public temper tantrum from the commonwealth’s highest elected official,” said KEA President Stephanie Winkler said. “Our state’s financial future will never improve if we keep wasting taxpayer dollars on governing around the people instead of with them.”

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A crowd gathered in the Kentucky Capitol outside the House of Representatives to sing holiday carols with lyrics changed to protest governor Matt Bevin’s surprise legislative session Monday evening. Marcus Dorsey mdorsey@herald-leader.com

Some advocates said Monday that Bevin and his allies feared they would not have enough votes for the original pension bill after January, when the 2019 General Assembly convenes with many new faces following November’s elections. But the fairer course of action would have been to honor the voters’ wishes and wait for the new legislature to be seated, the groups said.

“The voters of the commonwealth chose their representatives, and they will be in a regular session in a few short weeks,” said Louisville firefighter Brian O’Neill, spokesman for the Kentucky Public Pension Coalition.

“Rushing a special session before the holidays denies the voice of the people, and it will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. In a time when Kentucky is concerned about budget issues, this is an unnecessary expense when the legislature will be in session in less than a month,” O’Neill said.

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