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Teachers, public employees rally at State Capitol with U Hauls; dominant theme: ‘Remember in November’

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

“Remember in November” was the dominant theme during a rally by teachers and other public employees, along with labor officials, at the State Capitol Saturday.

The purpose of the rally, according to the Kentucky Public Pension Coalition, which was one of the sponsors, “was to show legislators that we haven’t forgotten about their votes against public pensions.”

One of 14 U Hauls sits in front of the state Capitol on Saturday. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

Bill Londrigan with the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, who emceed the event, said the message was “Vote ‘em out, move ‘em out,” referring to those lawmakers who voted for Senate Bill 151, originally a wastewater bill, but in the space of a few hours was transformed into a public pension overhaul and passed both the House and Senate, with most of the provisions of Senate Bill 1, which had become stuck in the legislative process during the 2018 General Assembly.

A fleet of 14 U Haul and Budget rental trucks rolled up Capital Avenue and parked alongside the building. Londrigan explained why.

“Those who voted for the sewer bill, those who voted for right-to-work and prevailing wage repeal, those who voted to raise the taxes on working people, need to go, and we have the equipment right here ready to take them away.”

Brent McKim of the Jefferson County Teachers Association said while proponents of SB 151 said the unfunded liability of the pension systems, estimated at over $50 billion, would collapse without passage of the bill, it does little to reduce that amount.

“This sewer/pension bill that they passed, over the next 30 years, only reduces the liability by less than one percent, some $400 million,” McKim said. “This bill does essentially nothing to help fund the pension system, all it does is add benefits for future employees, and prevents us from being able to attract and keep the kind of teachers who will help our kids succeed.”

In urging the crowd to get out and vote on Nov. 6, Sue Ellen Caldwell, Vice President of the 32,000-member Kentucky Retired Teachers Association, told them: “The voting power of teachers, their families, and friends, is like a sleeping giant that has been awakened. And I don’t think that sleeping giant is going back to sleep anytime soon.”

The crowd only numbered around 100 at the Saturday event, much less than the thousands who turned out at rallies during the 2018 legislative session, packing the Capitol and the grounds outside.

After the bill was signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin, Attorney General Andy Beshear filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled in favor of Beshear, taking issue with the process used to amend the bill from wastewater to pension reform. He held the changed bill did not receive the required three readings on three separate days in each chamber and that it was an appropriations bill, meaning it required 51 votes to pass the House. It only cleared by a 49-46 vote, although It easily received the number of votes needed in the Senate.

Shepherd’s ruling did not address whether the bill broke the so-called “inviolate contract” made with public employees when they accepted employment.

The Governor’s office appealed and the Kentucky Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month.  The justices have indicated they would hand down their decision by the end of the year.

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