FRANKFORT — As the number of days left in this year’s calendar dwindle and state House Republicans continue working on ways to “tweak” pension reform legislation, the question increasingly heard in Frankfort is: will there be a special session in 2017.
Gov. Matt Bevin just last week reiterated his determination to call a special session this year on the Terry Meiners Radio Show on WHAS-84 Radio.
“I said I’m going to call a special session,” Bevin told Meiners. “I’m going to call a special session. I’ve said I would do it this year. It will happen this year. This year is 2017. There will be a special session.”
That’s pretty clear and straightforward.
But lawmakers are reluctant to have special sessions without a prior agreement on legislation to be passed. Typically, previous governors have agreed.
They know the public’s disdain for special sessions and their cost to taxpayers — about $65,000 a day or $325,000 for five days, the minimum time required to pass a bill through both the House and Senate.
But there is no agreement yet on the pension bill, although Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, and Majority Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, say they’re getting close.
A draft bill released in October by Bevin, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and then-Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, ran into stiff resistance among state worker, retiree and teacher groups. (Hoover has since stepped down as Speaker in the wake of a sexual harassment controversy.)
Osborne said House Republicans have made “significant progress” on revising the pension bill and he thinks they’re getting close to settling on a bill which can pass the House.
Osborne said he hasn’t been informed of a date for a special session. But he assumes from Bevin’s comments to Meiners that the governor still hopes to call a special session before the end of the year.
Democrats and interest groups have suggested waiting until the General Assembly convenes in the first week of January to deal with pension reform.
And a week ago, Rep. Tommy Turner, R-Somerset, suggested the same thing: wait until January when lawmakers will convene for 60 days to pass a new, two-year budget and perhaps tackle some measure of tax reform to produce more revenue to fund pensions while avoiding steep cuts to state programs like education. Osborne said “several people” in the caucus share Turner’s position.
On Monday, Stivers had a simple answer when asked if he thought there will be a special session this year: “There is still time,” Stivers said.
“The only person who can make that decision is the governor,” said Shell, adding he has not been given any date.
Nor have Democrats.
Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said Sunday he has been told nothing of a date for a special session. Nor has House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.
“We have no knowledge of a special session or what changes, if any, might be made to the only proposed pension legislation we have seen so far,” Adkins said.
Shell said House Republicans continue to work on changes to the bill.
“What we’re trying to do is to listen to the people, to our constituents and to the interest groups,” Shell said. “We’re trying to find a compromise between where we were (the draft bill) and where we are that we can pass.”
If House Republicans settle on a revised bill and Bevin and the Senate agree to go along, it would take another week to write the bill and still more time to score it — calculate its costs and benefits. With December less than a week away, time is running out.
“That window is getting very, very slim and the timing is difficult,” Osborne conceded.
Adkins continues to suggest they wait until January.
“We believe this matter can and should wait until the regular session, which is now just a little more than a month away,” he said. “That would save taxpayers more than $300,000 while giving the public the time it needs and deserves to review whatever revised bill Gov. Bevin and other Republican leaders may propose. This matter is too important to rush.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.