Kentucky Senate passes hastily filed pension reform bill; school districts across the state cancel class hours later

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) - A last-minute pension reform bill passed through the Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate on Thursday night, sending it to Gov. Matt Bevin's desk.

After a contentious debate on the floor, the Senate voted to pass the bill by a 22-15 vote. It passed the House by a 49-46 vote earlier Thursday night.

Early Friday morning, school districts across the state had to cancel class due to a high number of teacher absences. Those districts include JCPS, Oldham County, Carroll County, Boyle County and Marion County.

JCPS officials say they had approximately 1,270 teacher absences as of 4:45 a.m. when classes were canceled, and anticipated several hundred more. 

The bill, which was introduced within a proposed wastewater sewage bill Thursday afternoon, differs from past versions in that there are no changes to current cost of living adjustments for teachers. The bill does plan for unused sick time to be frozen beginning July 1. New hires would go into a “hybrid cash balance” system.

During committee discussion Thursday, Rep. Jim Wayne (D-District 35) claimed the bill was illegal during the meeting. In spite of similar protests, the bill passed with an 11-7 tally.

The 291-page bill had no actuarial analysis before the vote, and since it was filed so quickly, most lawmakers didn't even have a chance to read it. As of 10:30 p.m., it had not been posted online for the public to read either.

"This bill is going to be found unconstitutional," Rep. Derrick Graham (D-District 57) said. "Remember this day. Let your voices be heard in November, for those that were with you in the grind and those who were against you."

After the Senate passed the bill Gov. Bevin tweeted that Senators who voted "yes" did so to not "keeping kicking the pension problem down the road":

While legislators debated the bill inside the House and Senate chamber, teachers gathered to protest outside the doors, repeatedly chanting "Just vote no!" among other things.

Rep. Bam Carney (R-District 51)  said he was "embarrassed" of those teachers protesting, calling on them to "Do your job. Don't talk about politics and teach."

A Senate version of a pension reform bill, Senate Bill 1, was pulled last month after some lawmakers balked at voting on the bill that caused angst among many teachers across the commonwealth. Rep. Russ Meyer (D-District 39) said Thursday that last year's pension reform proposal was scrapped because an actuarial analysis showed it would cost more.

The same can be said for SB 1 after it was introduced last month.

"I want to know what it's going to cost the taxpayers in our communities," Meyer said.

Carney added that the bill will save "significant" money over time but added that it won't be as much as SB 1 would have.

Less than 30 minutes after the bill passed the Senate, Fayette County Public Schools tweeted that school will be canceled Friday due to "having more than a third of our school employees out."

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