Gov. Matt Bevin announced a special session of the Kentucky General Assembly to begin in four hours on Monday night, tasking them with passing a pension bill | Screengrab via governor’s Facebook page

Gov. Matt Bevin announced at a hastily called news conference Monday that he was calling a special session of the General Assembly to begin four hours later that night, tasking the state legislators with taking up a public pension bill similar to what was struck down by a unanimous ruling the Kentucky Supreme Court last week.

While no bill had yet been made public, if legislators in both chambers passed a bill in the shortest amount of time possible — giving it three readings on three separate days — such legislation could hypothetically be passed as early as Friday.

In his brief remarks to the media just before 4 p.m., Bevin once again criticized the Supreme Court for striking down Senate Bill 151, the controversial public pension bill that passed by a slim majority in this year’s legislative session with no Democratic votes and against the wishes of protesting teachers that flooded Frankfort.

A unanimous decision of the justices upheld a ruling earlier this year by Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd that the bill was passed in an unconstitutional fashion, as it did not receive the proper number of readings.

However, the justices only struck down the bill for this procedural reason,and refrained from weighing in on whether the changes to the pension benefits of public workers in the year was also illegal, as was contended by Attorney General Andy Beshear, who filed the lawsuit along with the unions of teachers and police officers.

With the provisions of SB 151 no longer in place, Bevin said that legislators needed to act fast to pass new legislation to shore up the finances of the state’s public pension plans, asserting that a failure to do so could hurt Kentucky’s credit rating. However, Bevin said the details of the legislation that would be voted on during the special session were up to legislators.

“The exact details of how that is to be done is to be determined,” said Bevin. who added that one single bill won’t fix all of the problems with the pension system. “But I am going to use the powers that have been granted to me to call the legislature in to a special session.”

Bevin added that this special session “will be effective tonight at 8 p.m.,” as legislators will come in and begin “first readings of the things that are going to be discussed.”

With Christmas eight days away, Bevin said “this is not an ideal time for anybody. None of you, none of them. But there is nothing ideal about the situation that has been put upon us.”

If Bevin had waited for the legislature to take up a replacement bill for SB 151 in next year’s session that begins in early January, Republicans would have had a slightly smaller majority over Democrats in the House — 61-39 members instead of its current 62-37 — and might have had to pass the legislation with 60 votes instead of a simple majority of 51 votes.

In his ruling first striking down SB 151, Judge Shepherd ruled that it was an appropriation bill, which can be passed with 51 votes during the long sessions of even-numbered years but required 60 votes in the short sessions of odd-numbered years. The Supreme Court declined to weigh in last week on whether or not they agreed with Shepherd’s description of the bill.

In a news release, Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Ben Self stated that Bevin calling a special session “just a few weeks before the 2019 General Assembly convenes is an unbelievable waste of taxpayer resources. Governor Bevin’s political stunt — which will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars — is a slap in the face to hardworking Kentuckians.”

House Minority Floor Leader — and 2019 gubernatorial candidate — Rep. Rocky Adkins also issued a statement calling Bevin’s move “appalling,” as “neither I nor any member of the House Democratic Caucus was consulted or even given a courtesy call that this was happening, and many of our members are unable to make it tonight.”

“To expect legislators to be in the Capitol literally hours after calling a special session – especially during the holidays and three weeks before the next regular session – is the most short-sighted and unnecessary action I have ever seen a governor make,” stated Adkins. “This is nothing more than a continued mockery of the legislative process and an attempt to silence the public. This is a sad day for the people of Kentucky.”

Despite Democrats being caught off-guard, Republican House Speaker David Osborne immediately issued a statement that “we are prepared to convene for the extraordinary session called by the Governor. Our caucus stands willing and able to do the people’s business and lead on the critical issues facing Kentucky.”

120Strong, the group of public school teachers that organized massive protests of pension legislation in this year’s session, appears to be mobilized yet again, tweeting after Bevin’s surprise announcement: “We need bodies in Frankfort. Special Session. 8 pm tonight the gavel falls. We RISE.”

This story will be updated.

Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]