FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Saddled with one of the worst-funded public retirement systems in the country and defying a powerful teachers union that vowed political retribution, Republican lawmakers in Kentucky passed a pension overhaul Thursday that preserves benefits for most workers and does little to address the state’s massive debt.
The 291-page proposal suddenly appeared Thursday afternoon, taking the place of a sewage bill and giving opponents an opportune metaphor to denounce its passage. By 10:30 p.m., it had raced through the House and Senate and was on its way to the governor’s desk. The speed of the vote prompted warnings of unintended consequences, but Republican leaders noted much of the bill’s content has been vetted publicly for weeks in similar bills.
The Capitol was awash with emotion as lawmakers made impassioned speeches, buoyed by chants of “do the right thing” from teachers in the halls that seeped through the closed doors of the legislative chambers. In the House, Republicans turned to one of the few teachers in the state legislature to carry the bill in the hopes he could calm the storm of protests outside.
“This directly affects me. And that’s why I have chosen to take this stance today to try to help calm our educators and others to say this is necessary to solidify your future pension,” Rep. John “Bam” Carney said. But as he was speaking, someone yelled from the gallery that he was a “scab” and teachers who gathered outside the chamber chanted it was time for Carney to go.
The GOP-controlled House approved the bill Thursday night, 49-46. Eleven Republicans joined 35 Democrats in opposing the measure. The Senate later passed it, 22-15, as teachers outside shouted “Shame on you!”
Democratic Rep. Tom Burch, reflecting the impassioned pleas among teachers and public workers, called