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Kentucky Lawmakers Briefed On Governor's Pension Measure

Erica Peterson

Kentucky lawmakers received briefings Wednesday on a new pension bill as Gov. Matt Bevin's administration continued preparations for a special legislative session aimed at giving relief to regional universities and many agencies faced with surging pension costs.

Some resistance started emerging amid the briefings meant to build legislative support for the draft legislation. The advocacy group Kentucky Government Retirees said it had obtained a copy and termed it "bad funding policy" that should be rejected by lawmakers.

"The new pension bill increases overall costs, compels the nation's worst-funded state pension plan to serve as a creditor, and encourages employers to force employees out of the state retirement plan," the group said in a statement.

Bevin's office did not immediately respond to the criticism.

Members of Bevin's team had closed-door meetings with lawmakers at the state Capitol to provide details about his proposed alternative to a pension bill he vetoed recently.

"We had a good discussion," Senate President Robert Stivers said after one of the meetings. "I still think it's too early to talk about final details because questions were raised."

Another member of leadership in the GOP-dominated Senate — Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer — said the meetings were a sign "the process is working."

"We'll see what they've got and hopefully we can keep this moving along," Thayer said before entering one of the briefings.

Bevin, who is seeking re-election this year, hasn't said when he'll call lawmakers back to consider his replacement for the vetoed measure.

Top lawmakers have said it's up to Bevin to craft the new bill and line up support.

Kentucky has one of the worst-funded pension systems in the country.

The vetoed measure passed the GOP-dominated legislature on the final day of this year's regular session. As a result, lawmakers had no chance to consider overriding the veto.

Stivers said an afternoon briefing for lawmakers turned into a "broad-based discussion about a lot of things related to the bill, related to funding, related to impact."

Bevin's team has been crafting a measure aimed at giving regional universities, county health departments, rape crisis centers and many other quasi-governmental agencies relief from a looming spike in pension costs on July 1.

The vetoed bill offered pension relief by letting the agencies keep their pension system contribution rates much lower as they gradually buy their way out of the state retirement system. Bevin said he vetoed it because it had some flaws.

The Kentucky Government Retirees group suggested a way to offer relief to the agencies.

"We urge the legislature to pass a simple one-year extension of the current discounted employer contribution rate and explore funding options in the 2020 session so that quasi-government employers can begin making the full contributions to this fragile pension fund," it said.

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