After failed attempts last spring and in a 24-hour special session in December, Kentucky lawmakers will try to pass pension reform once more this session.
Filed on the final day for new bills, House Bill 504 attempts to fix one of if not the worst-funded pension systems in the country. Past pension bills were met with protests from Kentucky teachers, who grew into a political force partially in response to sudden GOP-backed moves to rush reform.
Kentucky’s Supreme Court ultimately struck down a pension reform bill passed at the tail end of the 2018 session after being jammed into a sewer bill on procedural grounds in December. A week later, Gov. Matt Bevin called for a special session solely to tackle reform. Lawmakers gaveled out within 24 hours without a solution.
Now, two educators elected in the wake of pension protests are attempting reform with HB 504. Sponsored by Republicans Rep. Scott Lewis, a former superintendent, and R. Travis Brenda, a teacher, the bill would change pension rules for future teachers hired after Jan. 1, 2020. It would not impact current or retired teachers.
If passed, future teachers would remain on a defined benefit plan — the same style of plan currently used. Past pitches put new hires on a hybrid plan closer to a 401(k), which many teachers did not support.
According to the legislation, new teachers would be required to retire later, at 55 years old as long as they’ve worked five years. Current teachers can retire after 27 years of service, which could be in their late 40s if they began teaching right out of college.
Should funding fall below 90 percent, the Teachers’ Retirement System can make a few changes under the bill, including shifting the cost-of-living adjustment, which keeps pensions aligned with inflation.
Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler, often a leader against past pension changes, said HB 504 is “much more promising” than past bills.
“KEA will always advocate for defined benefit pensions for all educators, both current and future,” Winkler said in a statement. “As the session continues, we will monitor this and other bills that impact our members.”
In a separate pension bill, HB 505, Rep. Jerry Miller (R-Louisville) asks to freeze local governments’ contribution levels to pensions and to use level dollar funding. Jason Bailey, from KCEP, called the latter “extraordinarily expensive” and unnecessary since state lawmakers began fully funding pensions in 2017.