The Teacher Pension Debate Is Back — But With A 'More Promising' Bill?

Feb 20, 2019

Pension reform is back on the menu in Frankfort. A Republican lawmaker is filing a bill dealing with the Teacher Retirement System just hours before the filing deadline.

Members of the Kentucky Teachers Association gather at the stairs leading to the Kentucky House of Representatives to sing Christmas carols in protest of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin calling a special session of the legislature in Frankfort, Ky., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018.
Credit AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

House Bill 504 aims to dial back the most controversial piece of last year's ill-fated pension overhaul. The sponsor, Representative Scott Lewis, hopes he's resolved perhaps the most stubborn sticking point in the 2018 bill — language moving future teacher hires out of conventional pensions.

"This new plan keeps defined benefit, and... it's not quite as good as the plan we have now, but certainly it's close," he told reporters Wednesday, the final day for House members to file legislation.

The former superintendent says the bill does mandate that teachers work until age 55 to retire with full benefits. Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler sounded more open to the new version, saying in a statement that Lewis' measure appears "much more promising."

The lawmaker is hoping that translates to buy-in from across the aisle.

"I think there'll be some Democrats who sign on for it," he said. "And that's good legislation."

The preliminary projected savings — $335 million over 20 years— are relatively small when compared to the estimated $43 billion in total state pension debt, but Lewis says the reforms could stop some bleeding within the system.

"I think it was important for us not to anything that added to the unfunded liability," Lewis explained.

Last year's pension reforms sparked a wave of protests at the Capitol and were ultimately struck down on procedural grounds.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.