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The Bottom Line: Legislative leaders say special session on pensions should come sooner than later

By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line

Stivers, left, and Meade.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade said they were surprised by the governor’s veto of a key pension bill and feel a special session on the issue will have to be done before June.

Last week, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin vetoed a bill seeking to allow state universities and other government entities to exit the state’s ailing pension system. In his veto message, Bevin stated while he appreciates the efforts of the General Assembly on this difficult issue, “we can do better” and added he intends to call a special session to address the topic before July 1, 2019.

Following the veto message, Stivers pointed to a letter from the governor during the 2019 session expressing his support for the Senate’s version of the legislation before the bill went into conference committee and the final version was drafted.

In response to Stiver’s remarks about the governor’s support of the bill, Gov. Bevin sent a letter stating the final bill passed by the legislature contained many issues including a mistake on the effective date for the bill and stated he was “confident the General Assembly did not really intend to take pension checks for individual retirees based on the future ability of their former employers to make certain payments.”

When asked if lawmakers will craft their own plan in the coming weeks before being called in to a special session by the governor, Stivers and Meade both said the plan will have to come from the governor to address the issues he feels exist in the bill.

Additionally, Stivers noted universities are already crafting their budgets and often need to have a budget prepared by June 1, which he said is a reason he feels the governor could have called a special session later in the year in order to address small corrections. Since the bill has been vetoed, in order to meet that June 1 deadline, Stivers feels the issue must be handled sooner than later.

House Pro Tem Meade said while the House version of the bill only dealt with the regional universities, he believes they reached a good compromise with the final bill as the issues of the quasi-governmental agencies must be addressed.

While Bevin has said the special session will happen before July 1, the primary election for the governor’s race is being held on May 21. When asked how he feels this issue and a special session will impact the governor’s race, Meade said too many decisions are based on politics and that must be put aside in order to do what is right for the commonwealth.

In the days following the veto, Gov. Bevin stated the special session could be held in one day. When asked about the likelihood a special session could be held in that amount of time and see passage of a bill, Stivers said the Senate feels there is “probably no way we can do this in one day.”

Watch the full interviews with Senate President Stivers and House Pro Tem Meade in the videos below:

As for the 2019 session overall, Stivers told The Bottom Line he believes it was a successful session with many issues important to lawmakers being addressed highlighting tax reform fixes, school safety and other items.

Meade said the social issues passed during the session as well as arbitration and other key items made the short session very successful.

As for the things left on the table including broader tax and pension reforms and infrastructure investment, Stivers said he believes lawmakers are all directionally on the same page in wanting to address those issues, but the details of how they will tackle them is the complicating factor.

Meade noted the addition of many new lawmakers in the House who are not as familiar with those bigger issues and said it will take some time and education to come to the right solutions.