Politics & Government

Bevin Administration says it has votes to pass pension relief bill

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has enough votes in the state House and Senate to push his pension-relief bill through in a special legislative session, his legislative director and deputy chief of staff said Thursday.

Bryan Sunderland said no date has yet been determined to begin the session but he is confident it will be held before regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies — mental health centers, public health departments, libraries and more — become delinquent Aug. 10 on higher pension bills that take effect July 1.

“It would be best to have the session soon but we are working now on the logistics of getting legislators’ schedules arranged so they can be in Frankfort,” he said. “Ideally, this would happen in June rather than July. But it may well be in July.”

House Majority Floor Leader John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, told the Herald-Leader last Friday that he believed the votes were there to pass a pension relief bill but the issue was complicated by lawmakers’ summer schedules.

Some lawmakers are scheduled to attend two upcoming legislative conferences: the Southern Legislative Conference July 13-17 in New Orleans and the National Conference of State Legislatures Aug. 5-8 in Nashville.

Bevin and lawmakers have been working to hold a special session before the new fiscal year begins July 1. Only the governor can call a special session and set its agenda. Lawmakers determine how long a session, which costs taxpayers about $66,000 day, lasts.

Bevin’s plan would replace a bill the Republican governor vetoed in April after the GOP-led legislature had ended its regular session.

Concern has been expressed that no legislative action would lead to bankruptcies, elimination of staff and loss of critical services.

Bevin’s plan gives the agencies options: stay with the Kentucky Retirement Systems at full cost; leave the retirement system by paying a lump sum equal to future projected benefits payments; or buy their way out in installment payments over 30 years. It continues a freeze on pension costs for another year.

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said earlier this month that some legislators want to make sure employees of the affected groups keep the option to retain their current benefits if they have been in the state plan since 2013.

House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said House Democrats “cannot support any plan that will unfairly cut retirement benefits for thousands of employees; saddle our public health departments, rape crisis centers and regional universities with decades of debt; and cost the state and public retirement system hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Adkins said House Democrats have not been part of any discussion about changes in Bevin’s proposed bill “despite making repeated attempts to work in a bipartisan way.”

Adkins also contended that the bill needs a super majority — 60 votes in the 100-member House — because of state constitutional requirements in odd-numbered years for appropriations. Republicans claim only 51 are needed to pass the pension bill. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the House 61 to 39.

Several legislative leaders have said it would take at least five working days to get a bill through both the House and Senate and a special session preferably would start on a Monday.

Jack Brammer is Frankfort bureau chief for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He has covered politics and government in Kentucky since May 1978. He has a Master’s in communications from the University of Kentucky and is a native of Maysville, Ky.
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