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March 13, 2018

Kentucky pension reform: Republicans cling to bill as protesters hold biggest rally yet

 

FRANKFORT, Ky. — With momentum from last week's decision to delay the Senate vote on the pension bill, teachers and other opponents of the bill flocked to the Capitol on Monday evening for their biggest demonstration yet.

 CLICK PIC TO HEAR INEZ RESIDENT AND RETIRED TEACHER MICK MCCOY SPEAK TO THE CROWD AT MONDAY'S PENSION RALLY IN FRANKFORT.CLICK PIC TO HEAR INEZ RESIDENT AND RETIRED TEACHER MICK MCCOY SPEAK TO THE CROWD AT MONDAY'S PENSION RALLY IN FRANKFORT.

Click on pic for Mick's 'hair raisin' speech to the crowd

Martin County's Mick McCoy, (left) Carol Chafins and friends were on hand with the protestors this week.Martin County's Mick McCoy, (left) Carol Chafins and friends were on hand with the protestors this week.

 

"So what do we do? We fill this building up every day between now and the end of the session," Josh Trosper, assistant principal at Knox Central High School, shouted to a crowd of more than 1,000 people on the building's front steps. "We show up. We be loud. ... We won't back down. And we're going to vote in November."

Some of the opponents said they felt emboldened by the surprise development on Friday when leaders of the state Senate's Republican majority decided to postpone a scheduled vote on Senate Bill 1, a measure intended to address Kentucky's pension crisis that includes benefit cuts.

Instead, Senate leaders returned the bill to the Senate State and Local Government Committee, where it is likely to undergo more changes.

STATE SENATE LEADER DAMON THAYER talks to Democrat leader Sen. Ray Jones during the pension negotiations. Thayer says the GOP pension plan is 'not dead yet', Jones says it is...STATE SENATE LEADER DAMON THAYER talks to Democrat leader Sen. Ray Jones during the pension negotiations. Thayer says the GOP pension plan is 'not dead yet', Jones says it is...

"It is not dead," Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, told reporters Monday afternoon of the bill's status. "We are working on a way forward."

Thayer declined to speculate on what sort of changes may be made to the bill or whether those changes might involve dropping the bill's most unpopular provision with teachers — a reduction of the annual cost-of-living increase in benefits of retired teachers from 1.5 percent to 1.0 percent.

Asked if loud demonstrations of teachers Friday and Monday are affecting consideration of the reform bill, Thayer said, "I'm happy they are here to express their First Amendment rights."

Some Democrats in the General Assembly say they believe the bill will not pass during the current legislative session.

"If they ever get the votes to pass it in the Senate, it would be by a narrow margin," said Senate Democratic Leader Ray Jones, of Pikeville. "And then it would go down to the House, where I don't think they have the votes. I think Senate Bill 1 is dead."

House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, said he could not say what the bill's chances are in the House because he said he's not expecting to get the bill until the Senate makes further changes. "Without knowing what a new version will be, I'm not sure I can speculate on what our members would think about it," Osborne said.

Among those who traveled to Frankfort to rally against Senate Bill 1 on Monday was Karen Schwartz, a teacher at Phoenix School of Discovery, an alternative school in Jefferson County. "We've paid our part. We've done our part," she said. "We've held up our end of the bargain. And that's all we're asking of them."

Stacy Mosier, a teacher at Prichard Elementary School in Carter County, said, "They need to find funding as the solution because when I signed my contract 15 years ago I was promised a pension. That promise needs to be upheld."

But Thayer said opponents are not fully recognizing the problem of a state pension system with more than $43 billion in unfunded liabilities. "There seems to be a lack of understanding. ... Our pension systems are in a crisis situation, and we have to get structural changes in order to save that," he said.

Osborne said that among House Republicans, "I still think it is a widely held belief of a majority of our members that we have to address the structural problems with the pension system. What that looks like has yet to be determined."


By Tom Loftus
Louisville Courier Journal

 

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