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Bevin issues call for special legislative session

By BRUCE SCHREINERJuly 18, 2019
Kentucky Governor and republican candidate for governor Matt Bevin speaks to the media following the Kentucky Farm Bureau candidates forum at the Kentucky Farm Bureau headquarters in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Kentucky Governor and republican candidate for governor Matt Bevin speaks to the media following the Kentucky Farm Bureau candidates forum at the Kentucky Farm Bureau headquarters in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin formally set the agenda for his mid-summer special legislative session, signaling Thursday that it will be limited to pension-relief legislation.

Bevin’s proclamation laid out details of his much-vetted pension-relief plan for regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies strapped by surging retirement costs. The governor has sole authority to call lawmakers into special session and to set the agenda.

The Republican-led legislature is set to convene at 8 a.m. EDT Friday at the state Capitol.

It takes at least five days to get a bill through the legislature. Special legislative sessions cost taxpayers about $66,000 per day from when the session begins to the day it adjourns.

The Republican governor’s proclamation drew immediate criticism from the top House Democrat, who said it was so narrowly crafted that it “makes a mockery of the legislative process.”

“Matt Bevin only has the power to call and dictate the subject matter of a special session,” House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said in a statement. “He does not have the power to write the legislation as well. This is clearly a violation of separation of powers and drives a stake in the heart of legislative independence.”

House Democrats have offered an alternative pension proposal that they intend to present during the special session. Republicans hold commanding majorities in the House and Senate.

Bevin spokeswoman Elizabeth Kuhn responded that the governor adhered to constitutional requirements in his proclamation by stating the subjects to be considered in the special session.

“This current political theatre and faux outrage is nothing more than another attempt by Democrats to distract from their repeated failures to fund the very pensions they claim to care about,” she said in a statement.

Jim Carroll, president of Kentucky Government Retirees, also objected to the proclamation’s wording. He said it’s so tightly drafted that it would appear to block consideration of any rival proposal. The advocacy group that he leads represents 15,000 state retirees and active employees.

“We deserve a focused and thorough consideration of both bills,” he said in a statement.

Bevin has spent weeks building support for his proposal to cushion the regional universities and quasi-public agencies from sharply higher pension payments that started this month. Those agencies include county health departments and rape crisis centers.

Bevin’s team has expressed confidence that he has secured enough votes to pass his proposal. Top GOP lawmakers have indicated they’re ready to take action on the issue.

The governor rolled out his proposal more than two months ago as a replacement for a measure that he vetoed in April after lawmakers had ended their regular session.

Without the relief, state leaders worry that some quasi-public agencies would be strained to the point of bankruptcy, causing people to lose their jobs or critical services.

The governor’s proposal, previewed by his team in briefings to lawmakers, would allow the agencies to 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 extends a freeze on pension costs for another year for the regional universities and quasi-public agencies.

Bevin agreed to a handful of changes in hopes of breaking weeks of gridlock.

One key change pushed back the deadline for affected agencies to decide until April 30, after the conclusion of next year’s legislative session. That would give lawmakers time to make changes to deal with any issues that might arise.

Bevin has been wrangling with the politically sensitive pension issue as he seeks reelection this year. The governor is being challenged by his political nemesis, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, in the November election.

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