Politics

Days after the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down legislation that would have overhauled the state’s pension system, Gov. Matt Bevin has called for lawmakers to return to Frankfort and pass a new version of the bill.

The Kentucky Supreme Court struck down the Republican pension measure last week saying that lawmakers violated the state constitution by not following proper procedures designed to give legislators and the public time to review legislation.

During a surprise news conference on Monday Bevin announced he was summoning lawmakers back to Frankfort to pass a new version of the bill.

“I have absolute confidence that they have what it takes to get done. Whether they do or not, I have no control over. I believe they will because I believe they must,” Bevin said.

The special legislative session will start at 8 p.m. Monday, December 17, giving lawmakers around the state just four hours to get to Frankfort after Bevin’s announcement.

House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins called Bevin’s announcement “appalling,” saying that Democrats hadn’t been notified about the session.

“Neither I nor any member of the House Democratic Caucus was consulted or even given a courtesy call that this was happening, and many of our members are unable to make it tonight,” Adkins said in a statement.

“To expect legislators to be in the Capitol literally hours after calling a special session – especially during the holidays and three weeks before the next regular session – is the most short-sighted and unnecessary action I have ever seen a governor make.”

Bevin said that he expected lawmakers would be making “the first readings of the things that are going to be discussed” on Monday night.

The Kentucky Constitution requires bills to be formally presented, or “read,” on three separate days before they can receive a vote in the full House or Senate, meaning the shortest amount of time it takes to pass a bill out of both legislative chambers is 5 days.

The timing of the session is important because the state constitution designates even-numbered years like 2018 as “budget-writing” years.

During budget-writing years it takes fewer votes to pass budget bills — only a majority of lawmakers elected to each chamber — 51 votes in the 100-member House or 20 votes in the 38-member Senate.

During non-budget years, it takes a three-fifths majority — 60 votes in the House, 23 votes in the Senate — a high bar for something as controversial as the pension bill.

The timing is also significant because Republicans will have two fewer seats in the state House of Representatives once the next regular session begins on January 8 — down to 61 instead of 63.

The next regular session is scheduled to start on January 8.

Bevin didn’t say what he wanted the new version of the pension bill to look like, except to say that he wanted it to affect future state employees.

“The only chance we have of doing that for those already retired and working toward retirement is to change the system going forward,” Bevin said on Monday.

Thousands of teachers and other state workers held massive rallies in Frankfort earlier this year to protest the old version of the pension bill.

The measure would have mostly affected future state employees, but it also would have tweaked benefits to some current ones.

Future teachers would have no longer received defined benefit pensions that guarantee benefits from the point of retirement until death, instead receiving “hybrid cash-balance” plans that rely on stock market growth.

It also would have changed how current workers can use saved-up sick days to qualify for retirement, and required employees hired between 2003 and 2008 to pay 1 percent of their salaries for retiree health insurance.

Other state workers hired since 2014 would also have had the guaranteed rate of return into their hybrid plans reduced from 4 percent to 0 percent.

This story has been updated

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.