Kentucky State Capitol

Kentucky State Capitol

On Thursday, Gov. Matt Bevin formally set the agenda for his special legislative session, signaling 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. today at the state Capitol.

The state's regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies were set to get temporary relief from skyrocketing pension costs under House Bill 358 after the House and Senate passed the bill on the final day of this year's session. However, in April, Bevin vetoed the bill saying parts "violate both the moral and legal obligation to retirees."

Many local lawmakers were disappointed in the governor's decision as it left agencies in limbo as they tried to create budgets for the coming fiscal year.

In April, State Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, said the ball was in the governor's court on how he planned to fix the issue.

This week, Carpenter told The Register, Bevin did just that.

"The Governor did what the General Assembly asked of him, which was to provide the legislature with a good bill addressing the pension issues surrounding the quasi-governmental agencies and regional universities, including Eastern Kentucky University," Carpenter said in an email. "With the press release expressing his intention to call legislators into a special session, it appears the time is upon us to act to grant relief to these groups. I await the official call into session and am prepared to act to prevent these agencies and universities from going over the fiscal cliff. In the meantime, I will continue the ongoing dialogue with stakeholders to ensure that we come to the best possible solution to these issues."

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.

However, not all GOP lawmakers are on board.

State Rep. R. Travis Brenda, R-Cartersville, said he's shared with both House leadership and the governor's office that he'll be a "no" vote on the proposed legislation.

"I agree that we need to have a special session to freeze the employer contribution rate for the universities and quasi-entities (health departments, rape crisis centers, mental health facilities, etc.)," he said in an email with The Register. "I do not agree that the proposal put forth by the governor is a good solution. The other parts of the proposal would have quasi-entities choose between options that are not affordable or sustainable over the long-term."

Brenda said the governor's proposal does not allow individual employees to remain in the state retirement system if their employer chooses to opt out. He added those employees have dedicated their lives to serving the people of the state with the promise of specific retirement benefits.

"These benefits were promised to attract qualified persons into jobs that typically have lower pay than the similar private sector jobs," he said. "Forcing these individuals into a defined contribution system for the last few months or years of their careers will not allow any significant amount to grow in a 401(k) type program."

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 recently 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.

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 Register reached out to other local legislators, but did not hear back by press time.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Jonathan Greene is the editor of The Register; follow him on Twitter @jgreeneRR.

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