FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear, the Democratic House and Republican Senate apparently are no closer to agreement on how to fund changes to the state pension system, a key difference on perhaps the most important issue still facing the 2013 General Assembly.
Beshear sidestepped the question Wednesday when he was asked by a reporter if the Senate had offered a way to pay for proposed changes to the underfunded state employee pension system.
“What I can say to you is the Senate and the House and I are discussing both pension reform and possible options for funding it,” Beshear answered.
But Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, later said there has been no funding proposal offered by the Senate.
“The Governor has discussed a menu of items with us, but there has been no proposal presented by the Senate.”
Kentucky’s employee pension systems are badly underfunded and Moody’s Investor Service recently downgraded the state’s credit ratings until it shores up those systems.
The Republican Senate passed a package of reforms based on recommendations of a task force which would move new employees into a hybrid, cash-balance plan but maintain current defined benefits for existing employees and retirees.
The bill states the General Assembly’s “intent” to begin fully funding the system — but it provides no defined source of revenues to do that.
The House rewrote the bill to maintain defined benefits even for new employees and passed a companion bill which calls for using revenues from expanded lottery games and instant racing to pay for the annual contributions. But the Senate refused to consider either bill.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Beshear want a specified funding source for pension reform.
But Stivers and majority floor leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who sponsored the Senate pension bill and co-chaired the pension task force, have repeatedly said they want to fund the pension contributions within the current budget and projected revenue growth.
Stumbo released a statement which indicated Republicans may at least be considering some kind of funding method.
“I understand the Senate is working on a funding plan, but I haven’t seen the details yet or spoken with anyone in the Senate about it,” said Stumbo in a statement.
Lawmakers recessed last week until next Monday and Tuesday, Mar. 25 and 26, providing time for Beshear to consider vetoing any bills already passed. Pension discussions have continued during the interim and Beshear said he remains hopeful a deal can be worked out.
While the funding piece seems a key disagreement, the two sides haven’t indicated a resolution on their differences about how to structure reforms either. But Beshear Wednesday still held out hope.
“We have not reached any final agreement on anything yet,” Beshear said. “But those discussions continue and I remain hopeful that by Monday or Tuesday we will come to a positive resolution.”
The governor also said he is reviewing arguments about whether he should veto a “religious freedom” bill, but he hasn’t made a decision.
The Religious Freedom Act, HB 279, was sponsored by Rep. Bob Damron, R-Nicholasville, and passed by wide margins in both the House and Senate. It would require that government must demonstrate clear and convincing evidence of a compelling state interest before enforcing laws which infringe on people’s religious freedom.
Damron’s bill was a reaction to a case last year in which members of the conservative Schwartzentruber Amish sect were arrested and fined for failing to display orange, rectangular “slow-moving vehicle” symbols on their horse-drawn buggies. They contend the symbols violated their religious beliefs.
The case reached the Kentucky Supreme Court which upheld the arrests, but the General Assembly subsequently changed the slow-moving vehicle law to accommodate the Amish objection.
But several civil rights groups, including gay rights groups, have said HB 279, Damron’s’ bill this year, might provide a legal basis for ignoring civil rights laws regarding fair housing or employment. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer earlier this week wrote Beshear urging him to veto the bill.
“We’re gathering as much information as we can this week by folks who have concerns on both sides of that bill,” Beshear said. “We’re hearing a lot from a lot of folks, and I’m trying to get my arms around it so that I can make the best-informed decision I can.”
Beshear has three options: sign the bill into law; allow it to become law without his signature; or veto it. But the legislature can override his veto with simple majorities of both chambers, 51 votes in the House and 20 votes in the Senate.
The House passed the bill 82-7 while the Senate voted for it 29-6.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/
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Man indicted in I-75 wreck that killed two
A man who police believe started the chain of events that led to the deaths of two people on Interstate 75 in February was indicted on several felony charges Wednesday in Madison Circuit Court.
Bryan M. Mangan, 56, of South Bend, Ind., was indicted on six counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, tampering with physical evidence and operating on a suspended license.
Man charged with reselling employer’s equipment
A man who worked for a local satellite TV company has been charged with ordering extra equipment and selling it online.
Charles William Hensley, 39, of Manchester, worked for the Multiband Corporation at its Richmond office, according to a Richmond police report.
Multiband maintains DIRECTV’s installations, service and upgrades for single-family homes in 20 states and commercial sites nationwide.
Saturday is National Drug Take-Back Day
A nationwide initiative to dispose of prescription drugs in a safe manner will take place Saturday.
Three Madison County sites are available for residents to get rid of their unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs as part of the eighth annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day:
• Richmond Police Department, 1721 Lexington Road, box is outside by the front door.
• Kentucky State Police Post 7, 699 Eastern Bypass, across from the EKU stadium, box is inside at the front door.
Retro Radio Revue
“Stan O’Donnell’s Retro Radio Revue,” presented by Rose Barn Theatre, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Gillum’s Sports Lounge in the Richmond Mall.
The production focuses on the performers of the show and the follies and chaos that take place as the unexpected ensues. Local musical performers from Madison County will be showcased throughout the production.
Gillum’s will provide a full menu service and cash bar beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Tickets for the show are $15 and available at the door or in advance at www.rosebarntheatre.org.
The event is a fundraiser for the nonprofit arts organization.
Luallen says no to 2015 governor’s race
After months of deliberation, former state Auditor of Public Accounts Crit Luallen announced Thursday she will sit out the 2015 race for governor.
The announcement disappointed friends and associates who see Luallen as an able and experienced administrator — she served in six gubernatorial administrations — but also someone with the character and integrity to restore confidence in government.
Blue Grass Army Depot sponsors 5K
The Blue Grass Army Depot is hosting a 5K run/walk Saturday in support of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The no-entry-fee event will begin and end at the depot’s new sports complex ball fields, according to a news release from the installation. Preregistration is available online at www.bluegrass.army.mil or starting at 9 a.m. the day of the event.
Wildcats encourage Cardinals to work hard in school
University of Kentucky student athletes Kastine Evans, a guard on the women’s basketball team, and Jon Hood, a guard on the men’s team, stopped by Waco Elementary School on Wednesday to talk about the benefits of working hard in school.
Mayor, commissioner pay changed
The Richmond City Commission approved 4-1 a new pay scale for the mayor and commissioners at a special-called meeting Wednesday morning.
Harrodsburg to get old Richmond police mobile computers
Richmond is donating to the city of Harrodsburg eight of 39 old computers formerly used in police cruisers.
Health science students organize blood drive
Aside from the gift cards and free snacks, 50 Madison County high school students have other reasons for donating 35 pints of blood Wednesday to the Kentucky Blood Center at Madison Central High School.
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