A bill to address Kentucky's ailing public employee and teacher pension systems can be passed in the legislative session that starts next week, although likely not in the first week of the session, local legislators said Monday.
The final details of the pension bill will have to be agreed upon in the first few days of the session, when House and Senate members are gathered in Frankfort, Owensboro-area legislative delegation members said. Lawmakers are still enthusiastic about addressing the issue, Sen. Joe Bowen, an Owensboro Republican, said Monday.
"Everyone is still motivated," Bowen said. "Nothing has changed in that regard."
Kentucky has the worst-funded pension system in the country because of a variety of factors. Investments into the systems didn't yield projected returns, and the state didn't make its full payments into the systems at times. Also, there are more people drawing pensions from the systems than there are workers paying into them.
Estimates on the state's pension liability are from $30 billion to $80 billion.
A pension bill rolled out in October was unpopular with education officials, who said changing the teacher pension systems would make it difficult to recruit and keep teachers. The first version of the bill proposed doing away with defined benefit plans for new teachers and state workers in nonhazardous jobs, and moving current workers into 401(k)-style retirement plans when they reached retirement age.
Republicans in the House and Senate, and Gov. Matt Bevin, have argued that changes are necessary if the state is to meet its pension obligations to people already drawing retirement payments.
Bowen said the pension plan now "is pretty much in the House's hands."
"We'll see what they put out, and how that works with our members (in the Senate) and start the process," Bowen said. "There's still obviously a rough outline. The process will start with that outline and go from there."
Rep. Robby Mills, a Henderson Republican who represents part of Daviess County, said House GOP members are waiting for the plan to be scored. Mills said the legislators have attempted to deal with the issues raised by teachers and state workers.
"A lot of the concerns voiced by teachers and public employees are being addressed," Mills said. "... I really think the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans have done more to help the folks who have issues with the pension (system) than the other side."
While legislators previously said a pension bill could be passed in the first week of the session, which begins Tuesday, legislators said Monday that the process could take longer.
"I would like to have it down in the first two weeks," said Rep. D.J. Johnson, an Owensboro Republican. Johnson said the process of moving any bill through the House and Senate can take longer than a week.
When asked about changes in the bill from the original version, Johnson said those were still under discussion.
"As to try to get into details, it's fluid enough for me to not predict the future," he said.
Mills said, "I think the majority of the House members would like to have a week or so to talk about it. Because pension reform is "too big of an issue," legislators want to "at least discuss it for a week or two," he said.
Bowen said the new version of the bill "will be a lot different from where it started."
"We've addressed just about every major issue that has been brought up," Bowen said. He agreed the bill could take the first two weeks of the session to pass and repeated earlier concerns that not moving a bill in that time could potentially hurt the process.
"I'm still of the school of thought of, if we don't get this done in the first part of the session, the (likelihood) will diminish as time goes on," Bowen said.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, email@example.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse