Kentucky governor calls legislature in session for pension vote
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Days after losing at the state Supreme Court, Kentucky's Republican governor called the legislature back in session Monday to try again to reshape the state's troubled public pension system.
Bevin issued a proclamation ordering the legislature to convene at 8 p.m. Monday "for the sole purpose of considering legislation regarding the Commonwealth's public employee pension plans."
The decision comes four days after the state Supreme Court struck down a pension law Bevin had signed earlier this year. That bill had angered teachers, prompting thousands to march on the Capitol as part of a wave of educator activism across the country.
On Monday, it appeared teachers were getting ready to protest again, with the president of the state's largest teachers union posting a video on Facebook telling teachers to "get in your cars and drive here tonight."
"You need to be here every day," Stephanie Winkler said. "I don't care what it takes, we will show up and we will make our voices known no matter what the cost."
While Bevin has the authority to call lawmakers back to the Capitol, he can't force them to vote on anything. Lawmakers could adjourn the session and take no action. In a brief news conference announcing the decision, Bevin said he has had "remarkable amounts" of conversations with Republican legislative leaders over the weekend but did not say if they had come to an agreement.
"I have absolute confidence that they have what it takes to get this done. Whether they do or not, I have no control over," Bevin said. "I believe they will because I believe they must."
Republican state Rep. Jerry Miller said he believes lawmakers will introduce a new pension bill on Monday night. As chairman of the House State Government Committee, Miller vetted Senate bill 151 earlier this year, the original pension proposal that was struck down by the courts last week.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Miller said, "To my knowledge, there will be nothing in this bill that was not in 151." Asked if Republicans had the votes to pass it again, Miller said he did not know but he would be "shocked if a call went out and we didn't have the votes."
Republicans have super majorities in both the House and Senate, totals that were unchanged by the midterm elections. Acting GOP House Speaker David Osborne said the House is "prepared to convene," adding "Our caucus stands willing and able to do the people's business and lead on the critical issues facing Kentucky."
But the order surprised Democrats, who were scrambling to make it to the Capitol in time for the 8 p.m. start. House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins, who is running for governor in 2019, called it "the most short-sighted and unnecessary action I have ever seen a governor make."
"This is nothing more than a continued mockery of the legislative process and an attempt to silence the public," Adkins said.
Kentucky has one of the worst funded public pension systems in the country. State officials are at least $38 billion short of the money required to pay retirement benefits over the next three decades.
Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a law that made changes to the pension systems, including moving all new teacher hires into a hybrid plan, restricting how teachers can use sick days to calculate retirement benefits, and changing how the state pays off its pension debt.
While the law had little impact on current employees, teachers were outraged at the speed in which lawmakers passed the bill in the final days of the legislative session. Lawmakers introduced and passed the bill in just over six hours.
Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, Bevin's political rival who is also running for governor in 2019, sued to block the bill. He argued the legislative maneuver lawmakers used to pass the bill so quickly was unconstitutional. Thursday, the state Supreme Court unanimously sided with Beshear and struck down the law.
Bevin denounced that ruling. Monday, he said credit rating agencies have already contacted his office, a sign he interpreted to mean the state was facing an imminent downgrade and "a big financial problem for Kentucky."