FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18)- A freshman legislator, who is a former school superintendent, filed a new bill on Wednesday that would put future Kentucky teachers into a pension system with defined benefits.
Rep. Scott Lewis, a Republican from Kentucky’s 14th District, filed the bill on the last day lawmakers could do so in the current legislative session. Rep. R. Travis Brenda, a freshman lawmaker, and current high school teacher will co-sponsor the bill.
LEX 18 received an unofficial copy of the bill, which proposes changes to the Teachers’ Retirement System. The proposed changes only apply to Kentucky teachers hired after Jan. 1, 2020.
Last year, the Senate did pass SB 151, a pension bill that was eventually ruled unconstitutional by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Ever since then, there has been a lot of pressure on lawmakers after thousands of teachers protested at the Capitol last year. Politicians hope House Bill 504 will please everyone.
“It’s not doing anything to current and retired teachers. That’s one of the biggest issues that people had worried back in their districts – about what’s going to happen to my pension for current and especially retired employees. So it doesn’t do anything to those,” said bill sponsor, Rep. Scott Lewis.
In House Bill 504, teachers would still be in a defined benefit pension plan, but they would have to work until age 55 before they could retire with full benefits. The benefits are less generous than what current teachers receive, but the formula increases the longer someone works past age 55.
In the current system, teachers can retire once they reach 27 years of service.
“It spells out to them, if I work to age 55, here’s what I’ll have,” said Rep. Lewis. “I think that’s been the big issue for teachers because we can’t draw social security, so there needs to be some kind of defined benefit at the end.”
Representative Lewis said early estimates show the bill would save $335 million over 20 years, which is a small fraction of the state’s more than $14 billion unfunded liability.
One other change from previous pension bills is the state’s teachers’ retirement board members can change benefits or the retirement age if funding levels drop below 90%.
“I think it was important for us to not do anything that added to the unfunded liability, so this should not add to the unfunded liability,” Rep. Lewis said.
Both Republican House Speaker David Osborne and Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins told reporters they had not read the bill Wednesday afternoon.
“Rep. Lewis’ bill HB 504 appears much more promising than any previous pension bill filed in the last couple of years. KEA will always advocate for defined benefit pensions for all educators, both current and future. As the session continues, we will monitor this and other bills that impact our members,” said KEA President Stephanie Winkler in a statement.
— Karolina Buczek (@Karolina_Buczek) February 20, 2019