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Pension bill passed Kentucky's House and Senate and heads to governor's desk

Changes to pension were put into sewage bill, in a move angering Democrats and teachers

CNN  — 

More than 20 Kentucky counties had schools close Friday after the state Legislature approved changes to their pension the day before.

Educators, who are furious over the pension issue, called out of work sick or requested substitutes in protest.

The bill, which overhauls the state’s pension, passed mostly on party lines and heads to Gov. Matt Bevin, who supports reforming the system. State leaders say it’s critical to fix the pension crisis, which ranks as one of the worst in the US.

Kentucky teachers have opposed changes to their pension, which was in Senate Bill 1 that proposed reducing benefits.

But in a surprise move, elements of Senate Bill 1 were tucked into another bill, Senate Bill 151, which had been about sewage services, reported several CNN affiliates in Kentucky. And the new, nearly 300-page Senate Bill 151 passed both the state House and Senate on Thursday to the chagrin of teachers and retirees who crammed into the Capitol.

“Just vote no!” they chanted Thursday. “Vote them out!”

The Kentucky Education Association, which represents teachers and other education professionals, slammed the maneuver as a “classic legislative bait and switch.”

“It stripped all the ‘local provision of wastewater services’ language out of SB151 and replaced it with many of the harmful provisions of SB1,” the association stated.

The group expressed further concern: “We haven’t seen the bill, weren’t allowed to testify. The bill hasn’t had the required actuarial analysis, includes no fiscal impact statement and no fiscal note.”

A summary of the bill has the following, according to CNN affiliate WKYT:

  • There will be no changes to the annual cost of living adjustments, which will remain at 1.5%.
  • New hires will have to enter a hybrid cash balance plan, in which members contribute a specified amount into their account.
  • Limits the number of sick days teachers can put toward their retirement.

Kentucky Republicans tweeted a summary of the bill.

Republican lawmakers attempted to allay concerns, saying that the bill is a compromise to save the state’s pension.

“I would urge everyone to take a deep breath and not buy into the talking points and the hyperbole,” Sen. Damon Thayer, a Republican, said during the discussion. “This is good news for teachers, current, retired and future, because it puts Kentucky’s pension systems on a path to sustainability.”

The bill passed the House in a 49-46 vote and the Senate by 22-15, according to CNN affiliate WLKY. There are 10 veto days following the passage of the bill for Bevin to take action on the legislation.

Bevin, a Republican praised the lawmakers who supported the bill for not “kicking the pension problem down the road.”

But Democrats and opponents of the bill disagreed. State Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat tweeted: “This is government at its worst.”

Crystal Staley, attorney general spokeswoman, told CNN on Friday afternoon that Beshear plans to pursue a lawsuit if and when the governor signs the current bill, saying it violates the inviolable contract for state workers.

Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler encouraged teachers and students to rally against the bill at the state capital Monday. Chris Main, spokesman for Kentucky Education Association, tells CNN “thousands” are expected to rally Monday as a result of the passage of Senate Bill 151.

Inspired by the West Virginia strike, in which teachers went on strike and won concessions, teachers are similarly organizing and publicly pressuring their state lawmakers in states including Oklahoma and Arizona.

CNN’s Amir Vera, Marlena Baldacci and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.