Politics & Government

Beshear says Gov. Bevin’s wording in special session call could endanger legislation

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear sharply criticizes Gov. Matt Bevin’s call for a special legislative session on pension relief at his Capitol office Saturday, July 20, 2019.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear sharply criticizes Gov. Matt Bevin’s call for a special legislative session on pension relief at his Capitol office Saturday, July 20, 2019. jbrammer@herald-leader.com

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, in a letter Saturday to all state lawmakers, said the wording Gov. Matt Bevin used in his formal call for a special session to consider pension legislation might legaly endanger any resulting legislation.

Beshear, the state’s chief law-enforcement official and Democratic nominee to run against Bevin in the Nov. 5 general election, said Bevin’s session proclamation issued Thursday “goes far beyond listing ‘the subjects to be considered’ for the session, and instead includes specific and mandatory terms of any legislation to be considered.”

The proclamation “exceeds the governor’s authority in calling the session and encroaches on your exclusive lawmaking power,” Beshear said to the lawmakers.

“I am concerned that Governor Bevin has endangered any legislation that will come out of this session.”

Beshear said Bevin should amend his call by removing all the subjects he listed to reflect his desired legislation to alter the pension system regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies.

Republican legislative leaders have said it is disingenuous for anyone to criticize Bevin’s call. They say the Kentucky Constitution says only the governor can call a special session and set its agenda.

Beshear said he agrees with that but the Constitution does not mean a governor can dictate the final terms of the law.

Shortly after Beshear’s media availability, Bevin’s deputy chief of staff and legislative director Bryan Sunderland told reporters in front of the governor’s office that the governor “has quite capable legal representation and so do members of the General Assembly that we work with very closely on a regular basis.

“The idea that the governor’s call is too restrictive is absurd considering the nature of the call of the governor.”

Sunderland noted that an entire bill was attached to then-Gov. Steve Beshear’s call in 2008 for a special session on pension reform. The former governor is the attorney general’s father.

Bevin’s call is “far less restrictive” than the 2008 call, said Sunderland.

Sunderland also commented on Beshear’s warning to lawmakers that “any final legislation coming out of this or any session must recognize and protect the inviolable contract rights of the public pension system from universities, colleges and quasi-governmental agencies.”

Sunderland said three organizations have opted out of the state pension system and put their employees under a defined-contribution plan under a 2015 law signed by Gov. Beshear. The latest was the Kentucky Bar Association, he said.

The House State Government Committee is to consider Bevin’s plan Saturday afternoon.

Bevin’s plan would replace a bill he 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 for the agencies involved.

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.

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.