FRANKFORT — House Republican leaders say they are closer to an agreement on pension reform after a closed-door two and a half hour meeting Tuesday — but they still don’t have a final agreement.
“I think we’re very close to having a plan that our members can support and that the Senate will also support,” said Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect. “I think we’ve addressed a great number of concerns that have been expressed.”
Osborne declined, however, to specify any changes House members have discussed making to a draft bill released last month by Gov. Matt Bevin, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and then Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown. (Hoover subsequently stepped down as Speaker in the wake of a sexual harassment controversy.)
Republicans control the majorities of both legislative chambers with enough votes to pass legislation without any Democratic votes.
Kentucky’s public pension systems are among the worst funded in the country with unfunded liabilities estimated to range from $34 billion to $60 billion, depending on what actuarial assumptions are used. The shaky financial conditions of the plans threaten the state’s bond ratings and could siphon off scarce General Fund dollars from services like education and public safety.
Bevin has made reforming the systems a priority and has promised to call a special session this year. But the draft bill released last month encountered stiff opposition from state employee, retiree and teacher groups as well as a significant number of House Republicans.
That’s what the House Republicans are working on — ways to soften the impact on those groups and secure enough votes in the House to pass a bill. But time is running out for a special session this year.
Osborne said he expects it to take a week to 10 days to write the final legislation and conduct an actuarial analysis of the bill once an agreement is reached, pushing the time for a special session closer to Christmas and the end of the year. Some would rather wait until the General Assembly convenes in January for a regular session.
“As I continue to say, it’s a very, very tight window, but I think until we get out of 2017, I think it’s still possible,” Osborne said of a special session.
But the timing is secondary to reaching agreement on a bill which will address a critical problem facing the state, said Majority Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster.
“Regardless of whether we go into special session or not or whether we deal with this in regular session,” Shell said, “we’ve got to address this problem and that’s what we’re continuing to work on with our House majority, the Senate majority and the governor’s staff.”
Osborne also said he expects to make a public statement by Friday about the results of an investigation by the Louisville law firm Middleton Reutlinger into charges of sexual harassment against Hoover and three other Republican lawmakers — Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green, Brian Linder of Dry Ridge and Michael Meredith of Brownsville.
Those four, along with Hoover’s chief of staff, signed a confidential settlement of claims by a legislative staffer in Hoover’s office.
The investigation was expected to be complete last week, but the law firm indicated some staff have refused to cooperate. That prompted demands from Democrats and others that the investigation be turned over to the Legislative Research Commission, the bi-partisan committee of legislative leaders that manages the General Assembly and which has subpoena power.
“We’re still hoping that everybody will cooperate in the investigation,” Osborne said. “But certainly we’re prepared to take other measures if we need to.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.