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Whither Pension Reform?

LRC Public Information
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, speaks during the Public Pensions Working Group meeting.

With the deadline to file Senate bills in the rear view mirror and the House due date fast approaching, Kentucky lawmakers say pension reforms could still resurface — in some form.

For now pension changes remain in limbo, with the legislature’s bipartisan Public Pension Working Group bypassing its first soft deadline of February 15th without a report. Despite the lack of new reocmmendations, Senate President Robert Stivers says it could arrive in piecemeal fashion.

"It depends on how you want to define pension overhaul," the GOP leader tells WUKY. "I don't if we get it all put to bed, but I think there's a likelihood we could put it all the bed. Slim, but I think there will be a substantial part of it dealt with at least."

Current bills in circulation include Senate Bill 10, which deals with quasi-governmental agencies, and a bill sponsored by Rep. James Tipton focusing on regional university pensions. Lawmakers also cite a transparency bill and couple of measures dedicated to the Teachers Retirement System.

But Louisville Republican Rep. Jerry Miller tells the Courier-Journal he will file a bill containing reforms similar to those in 2018’s now-defunct pension bill, unless education groups come forward with a new proposal.

Last year's reforms, which sparked vigorous protests, moved future teacher hires out of convention pensions and into less generous hybrid cash balance plans, while altering the rules surrounding how sick time could be used toward retirement.

Republican Senator Damon Thayer says he’s filed a shell bill that could house pension reforms, should the chamber move on comprehensive reforms.

"We can send it to committee and drop in a comittee substitute, and we wouldn't have any legal issues with our sensitive Supreme Court and Attorney General," the leader says.

But is there an appetite this session? On that point, lawmakers are hesitant to answer.

"I don't want to say there's momentum, but there's not inertia," Thayer adds. "There is still a willingness and a desire to do something. It's just a matter of what can we do... I think we'll continue to talk about it with the House leadership and figure out pretty quickly what we're going to do this session."

Wednesday marks the halfway point of the 30-day, non-budget session.

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