Months after massive protests over a surprise pension reform bill, Kentucky teachers found themselves in a nearly identical situation Monday night.
Dozens of them met in Frankfort to protest a sudden special legislative session called by Gov. Matt Bevin solely to vote on pension reform. Few knew the contents of what was being proposed.
This time, however, came a week after the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down the initial protested pension bill, Senate Bill 151. Lawmakers, the court ruled, missed some mandatory procedures while rushing the bill to a vote.
Now, in a lame duck special session called four hours before lawmakers needed to be in Frankfort, two pension bills are being considered as teachers watch from the gallery.
For many who came to Frankfort Monday night to protest, it was similar to how the spring’s pension push played out. Then, a sewer bill was hollowed out and replaced with pension reform language, then run through the legislature at the 11th hour with minimal time for public feedback.
Many protesters said they thought lawmakers, some of whom will be replaced by teacher candidates in a few weeks, would try to ram through pension reform again. And they said they are worried it’ll be done with minimal discourse.
Louisville Rep. Jerry Miller introduced two pension bills late Monday night, as a crowd of teachers and supporters of #120Strong movement watched from the House gallery. Lawmakers waived the three-day posting rule, allowing the bills to read in committee Tuesday afternoon.
The swift action was met with strong objections from Democrat Rocky Adkins, who said he hadn’t read the bills yet, and jeers from protesters. It was also met with a barrage of coughing, hinting at another “sickout” on the horizon.
Late Monday night, some said they were “monitoring” teachers’ health as the House remained in recess until shortly after 11 p.m. Even later that night, protesters said there was a “strong” possibility of a sickout.
A sickout, when teachers use sick days en masse to force a district closure, didn’t manifest in Jefferson County. JCPS Spokeswoman Renee Murphy said the district had “about the same number” of call-ins as they did last week.
The special session comes during finals week for many educators. For others, winter break already began. Along with the four-hour timeframe to get to Frankfort, fewer teachers and public workers protested Monday than the crowds of hundreds in the spring.
Still, much of the sentiment remained. Some said they’re “sick and tired” of needing to worry about how lawmakers handle their pension.
Others worried about the “unconstitutional” way lawmakers are handling things, something Adkins called a “mockery” of how government is supposed to function.
Several lamented that a special session was called mere weeks from the start of the 2019 legislative session, calling it “wasteful.” Lame duck lawmakers will be able to vote on a potential pension bill this week, as candidates who ran on pro-public education platforms and ousted some of them watch on from the sidelines.
Teachers are expected to protest throughout the special session, much like in the spring. This time around, though, they brought custom Christmas carols.