Bevin, Stivers at odds over governor's veto of pension bill

Two of Kentucky’s top Republican leaders, Gov. Matt Bevin and Senate President Robert Stivers, are at loggerheads over the governor’s decision on Tuesday to veto pension reform legislation passed on the final day of the 2019 General Assembly.

“The rationale behind this decision is perplexing,” Stivers said on Wednesday.  “Just weeks ago, during the 2019 regular session, the governor delivered a letter to members of the General Assembly expressing support for the Senate’s version of HB 358, which is consistent with the final bill that arrived on his desk.”

Bevin said in his veto message he would call a special session on the issue before July 1. The governor told conservative radio host Leland Conway that the fixes on House Bill 358 would be easy ones and could be a one-day affair.

Stivers wasn’t so sure that could happen.

“Before the Senate is called into an extraordinary session, the governor should set the parameters for what he is willing to sign,” Stivers said. “We need a bill to address this problem that is actuarially sound, is able to pass both chambers, and can withstand political and legal scrutiny.”

During the final hour of the session, lawmakers passed public pension legislation that would affect the regional public universities, and quasi-governmental agencies like health departments, who are in the Kentucky Employees Retirement System.

HB 358 was changed by the Senate, and the House would not agree to the Senate version, so a free conference committee met to hammer out an agreement, which was finally reached during the evening.  It just needed the governor’s signature but that didn’t happen.

In his veto message, the governor said, “I have stated repeatedly that we have a moral and legal obligation to protect the benefits earned by our public sector retirees.  While I appreciate the work of our legislators who worked diligently to protect the services provided by many quasi-governmental agencies, parts of HB 358 violate both the moral and legal obligations we have to these very retirees.”

He also cited the section of the bill that would halt benefits to retirees if an agency is more than 30 days past due on an installment payment.  

“This would include the health care benefits provided to these individuals,” he said. “This is not acceptable.”

Stivers said HB 358 is “a bill which would have provided much needed stability to the commonwealth’s regional universities and quasi-government agencies.” 

Bevin sent a letter to Stivers on Wednesday evening, saying he was also “disappointed and perplexed.”

“Your comments released to the media indicate either a remarkable misunderstanding of the legislation you just voted for, or an intentional misrepresentation of the facts,” the governor wrote. “This leaves me, just like yourself, both disappointed and perplexed.”

Bevin sent Stivers a copy of the letter he sent to all lawmakers as well as a copy of the original Senate version “so you can see that it did not include the blatant violation of the inviolable contract that was included in the final version, which I was duty-bound to veto.”

He also included the final version of the bill approved by the General Assembly as well as his veto message.

“Upon reading these four documents, I am certain you will be far less perplexed as to why I issued the veto message,” Bevin wrote. “I am confident that the General Assembly did not really intend to take pension checks away from retirees, based on the future ability of their employers to make certain payments.”

He said he was also confident the General Assembly did not really intend to make certain provisions of the bill effective January 1, 2019, as written.

“Finally,” Bevins wrote, “I am also confident that the resolution of this issue can occur in a constructive, financially responsible and legal manner that is good for all those affected. I look forward to working with you to discuss the parameters clearly articulated in the veto message.”

The governor said he believes everyone was trying to do the right thing in the passage of HB 358 and that it would be passed prior to July 1, 2019.

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