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New pension bill moves forward; teachers left worried, frustrated

Posted at 7:21 PM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 19:21:23-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — A small group of retired teachers sat outside of the Capitol Annex on Thursday while a new pension bill was voted on inside the building.

"We found out about [the bill] late last night, so we sent a text around - who can come," said Denise Finley, a member of 120Strong, a group that supports teachers and state workers across Kentucky.

Teachers protesting a pension bill is not unusual. Over the last few years, Kentucky has seen thousands of teachers come to the Capitol to fight for their pensions.

But this year is different because they cannot go inside due to COVID-19 safety protocols. So, 120Strong members are frustrated a new pension bill is moving through the legislature when they can't fight against it.

"Why are we talking about this in the middle of a global pandemic? Why couldn't we be listening to other bills that are going to bring in revenue, bring in industry - things that are going to be helping us get through the pandemic instead of what's happening. And it's because they know they can," said Finley. "Because we can't go in and advocate for ourselves. We can't answer questions."

Finley said the situation reminded her of 2018 when pension reform was tacked onto a sewer bill and passed last minute.

"In our view, this is the sewer bill all over again because we can't go in the building," she said. "We were locked out of that building."

The new pension bill is House Bill 258. The bill would move new teachers hired after January 1, 2022, into a hybrid pension benefits plan. Current teachers and retired teachers would not be affected.

"It is a 100% funded new tier," said Rep. C. Ed Massey, the bill's sponsor. "It does not close out the old legacy plan. It is a new tier."

Massey said the bill was crafted with input from many different groups. He said teachers' groups, like the Kentucky Education Association, had a seat at the table.

"I was committed to transparency and making sure there were no surprises - nothing thrown in at the last minute, not trying to run it all through very quickly," said Massey.

Several groups like the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents and the Kentucky Association of School Administrators put their support behind HB 258. The KEA hasn't taken a stance on it yet, but the group's president voiced some concerns.

"Educators are concerned that HB258 will discourage well-qualified new educators from seeking jobs in Kentucky, because it will be, in effect, a pay and benefits cut when compared to their more experienced colleagues," said Eddie Campbell, KEA's president. "Should this bill become law, any teacher hired under its provisions will have to work longer and pay more for a lower guaranteed defined benefit upon retirement."

120Strong members say they have the same concerns. The group tweeted, "NO to HB 258. Period."

Julie Roney, who stood outside of the Capitol on Thursday, worries the bill will hurt educators and public education.

"We are retired teachers standing here for future teachers to make sure they have the benefits they need to have a long, successful career," she said.

The bill cleared the Kentucky House. It now moves to the Senate.