Richards calls for transparency around state pension system changes

As one of his final acts in office, state Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, is calling for a constitutional amendment that would make any pension reform bill available for public review at least 24 hours before a vote.

“It’s simply an attempt to have all sides heard before a pension bill is finally passed,” said Richards, who is retiring at the end of the year after more than 40 years in office.

Richards recently joined Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in a joint news release to support greater transparency around pension reform efforts in 2019.

According to the release, Richards has worked with Grimes to produce a bill for the amendment. Grimes is working with members of both Republican and Democratic caucuses to create greater transparency around pension reform, the release said.

“Kentucky deserves better. People are tired of Frankfort politicians playing games with their retirement,” Grimes said. “These changes will not only affect current teachers and public employees but will affect our ability to recruit quality individuals in the future.”

Kentucky is at least $38 billion short of the money it needs to pay state workers’ benefits over the next three decades, according to The Associated Press.

The issue will likely dominate next year’s legislative session after lawmakers hastily passed a reform bill in March. Lawmakers introduced and passed the bill in just one day, moving so quickly that a copy was not available for the public to read until after it had been voted on, according to the AP.

The legislation was later challenged by Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear and ultimately struck down by a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this month. The court sided with Beshear, ruling that lawmakers cannot take a bill close to final passage and replace it with an unrelated bill without voting on it three times on three separate days as the Kentucky Constitution requires.

If upheld, the bill would have moved all new teacher hires into a hybrid pension plan and restricted how teachers used sick days to calculate their retirement benefits, according to the AP.

The legislation drew thousands of teachers to Frankfort to protest, and schools in more than 30 districts closed.

Richards said his call for a constitutional amendment isn’t meant to be “vindictive” but was motivated in part by how lawmakers passed pension reform in the spring.

“It’s just to make sure that people have their voices heard,” he said.

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