In a surprise move, the Kentucky Senate passed a pension reform bill that was inserted into a sewage services bill without allowing any public comment or testimony, drawing a strong rebuke from the state’s attorney general and teachers’ associations.
The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Matt Bevin, who is expected to sign it into law.
“49 members of the Kentucky House and 22 members of the Kentucky Senate voted not to keep kicking the pension problem down the road,” said Bevin in a Twitter post. “Anyone who will receive a retirement check in the years ahead owes a deep debt of gratitude to these 71 men and women who did the right thing.”
However, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear disagreed, and said he plans to sue to stop the bill, which he said breaks Kentucky state law.
“I am outraged,” said Beshear in a Twitter video. “We saw government at its worst when the leadership of the House and Senate, in the dark of night, amended what was supposed to be a sewage bill into what they claim is pension reform.”
He said the bill violates the inviolable contract, a state law that guarantees that pension participants will receive the benefits they were promised when they were hired.
“The House and Senate violated that law and broke their word,” said Beshear, adding that “if and when the governor signs that bill into law” that he’ll “file suit seeking to overturn as much, if not all, of this terrible bill as we can.”
The bill left out some of the provisions in previous drafts of the proposed pension reform that teachers had objected to. For example, it does not include any reduction in annual cost-of-living increases for retired teachers, and it does not change how long current teachers must work before being eligible for full retirement benefits.
However, it still includes moving new hires from a traditional defined benefit pension, where the benefits are guaranteed, to a hybrid plan that includes elements of a defined contribution plan that does not provide guaranteed benefits.
The bill’s passage drew the ire of the state’s teachers, many of whom had been demonstrating outside the state Capitol.
The passage of the bill “showed blatant disrespect for the law and for democracy,” Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association, said in a release. “Based on the reaction of educators and the public today, no matter what the language of the bill says that they have created an overall environment of deception and mistrust. The angst, anxiety, and anger among educators is strong.”
The teachers’ association held a statewide rally in Frankfort on Monday.
“We will be here watching every move legislators make,” said Winkler. “We will not be silent.”