After a whirlwind 24 hours, Kentucky lawmakers voted Tuesday to end Gov. Matt Bevin’s special session without passing a pension reform bill.
Representatives spent over five hours in closed door meetings, presumably discussing two pension bills pitched earlier in a committee meeting.
Later, Speaker-Designate David Osborne said they found they had “vast differences” to overcome in approaching reform — too much to overcome in a five-day special session.
“We cannot shirk this,” Osborne said before the House voted to end the session sine die. “We cannot run from this.”
Shortly after the House, the Senate concurred, effectively ending the special session minutes shy of 24 hours of its beginning Monday night.
A day of a special session costs roughly $65,000, meaning the full session cost taxpayers around $130,000.
As the House ended the session, teachers and other protesters in the gallery erupted in applause. Many gave a standing ovation.
Similar to protests in the spring, educators and other public workers gathered in the Capitol Monday night. They swapped the spring’s chants with custom Christmas carols, protesting the sudden attempt at pension reform.
Dozens protested in the House gallery Monday night, with around half that showing up Tuesday afternoon despite threats of a sickout.
Stephanie Winkler, the president of the state teachers union, thanked lawmakers for “standing up against the political circus” in a statement Tuesday night.
“Real leadership from these legislators demonstrates what our Commonwealth desperately needs: Serious and sober consideration for the rule of law,” she wrote.”
House Bills 1 and 2, the two potential pension bills introduced late Monday night, seemed to be slightly watered down versions of Senate Bill 151, which was struck down last week by the Kentucky Supreme Court over procedural issues.
In a state government committee meeting earlier Tuesday, Rep. Jerry Miller described a substitute bill that was much closer to the initial language of SB 151, but a copy of that bill was not shared publicly at the time.
After the House and Senate adjourned to end the special session, Bevin spoke to reporters gathered outside of his office, calling it a “dark and sad day” for state workers and “one of the worst financial days that has ever descended upon the commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Despite not coming up with enough votes in the Republican supermajorities of both chambers, Bevin blamed Democratic legislators for its failure and said he did not regret calling the session, as “to do the right thing is never a waste of time and money.”
Though Speaker Osborne told reporters that House Republicans were surprised that HB 1 sent from the governor’s office differed so much from SB 151, Bevin insisted that not only did he not draft the bill, he hadn’t even read it.
“I don’t draft bills,” said Bevin. “All the drafters report to the legislature. Bills are operated by the legislature. With respect to confusion or not, I don’t know. I’ve not even read that whole bill. I’ve not.”
Attorney General Andy Beshear — who filed the lawsuit that led to SB 151 being voided and is running for governor next year — blasted Bevin for calling the special session in a statement.
“The governor’s attempt in the week before Christmas to cut the promised retirement of every teacher, police officer, firefighter, social worker, EMS and countless more public servants was wrong and cruel,” stated Beshear. “Tonight, our values prevailed and partisanship took a backseat to what is right.”
Ben Self, the chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party, stated that “these two days, wasting more than $100,000, were a full display of Matt Bevin’s erratic and arrogant leadership.”
This story has been updated.