Senator Joe Bowen was present Thursday, Sept. 20, as the Kentucky Supreme Court reviewed Senate Bill 151, which has come to be known as the “pension bill.” This is the same bill that caused much controversy in March of this year with educators across the state of Kentucky.
Bowen said that he found it interesting that the attorney general was originally going to contest Senate Bill 151, but Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd took exception to how the bill was passed.
What Bowen is referring to is the substitution of Senate Bill 151, a sewer and wastewater treatment bill, for Senate Bill 1, the pension reform bill.
Senator Bowen said what most people may not realize is that this practice is not unprecedented and has been done many times before.
“It’s a practice that has been employed since we’ve had a general assembly,” Bowen said. “It has been done primarily by the party in opposition to the bill because they have been in control.”
Bowen went on to say that if they strike this bill down for the manner in which it was passed, then it would “expose a lot of other bills that have been passed that way.”
“If they strike it down, anybody that has been impacted by that legislation in years past, including those incarcerated, would be affected,” Bowen said.
Bowen said overriding this bill would also expose local governments to much higher pension payments than they would normally have. This may account for one of the reasons Mayor Tom Watson and local officials voted to raise property taxes last week, in order to ensure enough money was set aside for increased pension costs.
“The local governments have to allocate more money to their plans,” Bowen said. “We allowed local governments to have a phase-in to their plans so they aren’t hit at one time.”
The Supreme Court is currently in deliberation over Senate Bill 151, with no set time frame. Bowen said they may or may not make a decision before election day, which could influence the election one way or another.
“From the questions they asked, I think the justices have their minds made up,” Bowen said. “That’s just my opinion.”
“The irony is the final language in SB 151 included the language that most educators wanted,” Bowen said. But the way in which it was handled deterred from that fact.
Much has been said of the importance of voting this year in relation to the pension crisis and other debates.
“Honestly, there is more of a political divide in this country than ever before. It troubles me,” Bowen said. “Nobody is willing to come together to sit down and work things out. It’s pretty frightening to me actually.”
Daviess County Public Schools superintendent, Matt Robbins, was not in Frankfort Thursday, but he did listen to recordings of both sides of the argument that evening.
Robbins said that he was a bit surprised that a topic that caused so much angst in the spring could be presented in such a short period of time, with both arguments being presented in a little over an hour.
“The process by which the bill was passed caused a lot of mistrust among the educator public,” Robbins said. “It’s not what is in the bill that’s the issue.”
Robbins said the Supreme Court ’s responsibility now is in determining whether or not the ruling is valid or that the bill was passed in such a way that it was unconstitutional. He added that in the financial analysis of it, even if it were deemed unconstitutional, the bill is a very small savings to the overall pension plan, particularly compared to the educator shared responsibility plan developed by educators last year.
While there is still a major aspect of SB 151 being considered by the KY Supreme Court, Robbins said he hopes that somehow everyone can move forward.
“Last year created so many bad feelings,” Robbins said. “Many educators don’t want to relive the experience we had a year ago, me included. There is a benefit that is understood when you become an employee. When there is a prospect of that being taken away it’s going to cause a person to be upset about it.”
While Robbins will stay up-to-date with the SB 151 ruling, he no longer wants it to be a distraction to himself, his staff or educators. He prefers to focus on the task at hand of impacting the lives of the children in the DCPS district.