Bevin predicts one-day special session to fix vetoed pension bill


FRANKFORT -- Gov. Matt Bevin followed up his pledge to call a special legislative session so lawmakers can pass a modified version of the pension relief bill he vetoed Tuesday with an even more ambitious pledge: The law-making session will take only one day.

"This was a good bill that was passed, it just isn't a correct bill," Bevin told radio personality Leland Conway on Louisville radio station WHAS Wednesday morning. "It can be cleaned up; we have between now and July 1st to get it done. It won't even take a five-day session; it will take a one-day session."

It typically takes a bill at least five days to go through the legislative process, since Section 46 of the Kentucky Constitution requires three public readings of a bill in each chamber of the legislature on three separate days unless a majority of lawmakers vote to forgo the second and third readings.

No bill has been passed in one day since record keeping began in 1900, according to the Legislative Research Commission.

Bevin's pledge is a sign that he feels the legislature can compromise on an issue that bogged it down through much of this year's 30-workday session and took members late into the night March 28, their final day to pass a bill.

House Bill 358 offered relief to the state's regional universities and dozens of "quasi-public" agencies, such as county health departments and mental health nonprofits, by letting them keep their contribution rates to the state's pension system much lower as they gradually buy their way out of the state system.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, called Bevin's decision to veto the bill "perplexing," citing a letter Bevin sent the legislature in March supporting the Senate's version of the pension relief bill.

"Before the Senate is called into an Extraordinary Session, the governor should set the parameters for what he is willing to sign," Stivers said. "We need a bill to address this problem which is actuarially sound, is able to pass both chambers, and can withstand political and legal scrutiny."

In his interview with Conway, Bevin promised that the special session would be limited to pension relief and appeared to believe that there wasn't much negotiation needed on the bill.

"I don't think there's a whole lot of compromising that's gonna need to have to happen," Bevin said. "Just take out the parts that are illegal, then re-pass the thing. We're not going to have to re-adjudicate the entire process. There's some who may want to, but there's really no need to."

Bevin said that the bill was illegal because it would have retroactively taken pension benefits from people who retired from the quasi-governmental agencies under certain conditions.

The bill would have allowed the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet to take over management of universities or agencies that defaulted on their pension liability payments to Kentucky Retirement Systems for more than 30 days. In the event of such a takeover, pension checks and health coverage would not have continued for retirees until payments resumed, and all employees would have been bumped into defined-contribution retirement accounts, permanently losing their right to continue with defined-benefits pensions at KRS.

"The legislature did a good job on this bill, they really did," Bevin said. "They worked hard at it, there was a lot of back and forth. There were a couple of sticky parts, but they ultimately came together. But passing a bill that was flawed, that we would be sued on, that we would lose on, why do that if we have a chance to get it right?"

In the past, Bevin has underestimated how difficult it is to find consensus in the legislature on any issue related to pensions. In December, he called a special session for lawmakers to pass an overhaul of the Teachers' Retirement System, but that session ended the next day without any legislation passed. Bevin criticized the lawmakers for not having the "intestinal fortitude" to pass a bill.

In a statement issued Tuesday night, House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, warned Bevin against calling a special session before the legislature reached a consensus on how to approach the issue.

"We sent the governor a bill that we believed provided stability for the employers while keeping the state's commitment to the retirement futures of our employees," said Osborne. "I am hopeful that the governor will begin meeting with us immediately to find a solution that ensures this balance. It is critical that we do this before calling another special session without a solution in hand."

Bevin told Conway that he had already begun having conversations with lawmakers and that conversations had been happening for a while. He acknowledged that he and the legislature aren't always on the same page regarding pensions, but that he still expects them to pass a bill before July 1, when lower pension contribution rates for the universities and quasi-governmental agencies expire.

"You can't force people to do it. You won't be able to force people to do it here," Bevin said. "They should want to do it. They wanted to pass this bill, they should want to do it in a way that will pass legal muster. I think they will."