FRANKFORT – Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signed pension legislation Wednesday after lawmakers delivered the bill he wanted to relieve regional universities and community social services agencies from crushing retirement costs.
Pension issues have cast a long shadow over the Republican governor’s tenure in office, as he and lawmakers have struggled to shore up one of the country’s worst-funded public pension systems.
The GOP-dominated Senate voted 27-11 on Wednesday to end work on the bill, which replaces a similar measure that Bevin vetoed in April after lawmakers had ended their regular session.
The measure took effect after Bevin’s signature. Soon after that, the legislature ended the high-stakes special session that Bevin convened Friday in the midst of his reelection campaign.
Bevin said the bill doesn’t resolve the state’s pension woes but called it a “responsible and appropriate next step in moving toward financial solvency.”
“But there will have to be more steps,” he said. “We don’t even know fully what they will be. Some of them will be determined by the impact of the steps that have been taken thus far.”
The new law aims to bring relief to regional universities and quasi-governmental entities hit recently by massive increases in pension costs. The agencies include public health departments, community mental health centers and domestic violence shelters.
The measure reflecting Bevin’s plan would spare regional universities and quasi-public agencies from the spike in pension costs by freezing rates at the much lower amounts for another year. It allows affected agencies to decide next year whether to stay in the state retirement system and face a big increase in contribution rates or agree to leave.
State leaders warned that, without relief, some quasi-public agencies would be strained to the point of bankruptcy.
Bevin’s proposal narrowly passed the GOP-led House but ran into less resistance in the Senate. The special session cost taxpayers about $66,000 per day.
Opponents of Bevin’s bill warned it’s likely to draw a court challenge. They said it violates “inviolable contract” language guaranteeing that affected employees get the benefits promised when they were hired.
“The only hope of a life when they’re old enough is their pension,” Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, a Louisville Democrat, said during the Senate debate. “We’re going to cut that off today. We’re going to tell them ... either find another job or come up with a measly 401(k) with the years you have left in your working life.”
Jim Carroll, president of Kentucky Government Retirees, said the measure “assaults the contract rights” of affected employees. The advocacy group represents 15,000 retirees and active employees.
“We will stand in solidarity with affected employees when guaranteed benefits are terminated next year and this matter is litigated,” Carroll said in a statement.
The bill’s supporters said it doesn’t violate employees’ rights, noting that affected groups can choose to stay in the state pension plan next year and start paying higher pension costs.
The governor said he’s not concerned about any potential legal challenge, saying “there’s no basis” for it.
Bevin has wrangled with the politically sensitive pension issue as he seeks reelection this year. His Democratic challenger, Attorney General Andy Beshear, has said the restrictiveness of Bevin’s proclamation calling lawmakers into session created “a clear danger” that any measure winning passage could be challenged in court.
Beshear said Wednesday that the new law’s options for affected agencies “range from potentially illegal to simply impossible.” Beshear said he’s offering “a real fix” – a reference to his support of expanded gambling to generate more revenue for underfunded public pension systems. Bevin calls expanded gambling a “sucker’s bet.”
The midsummer session had a starkly different outcome than another pension-related special session that Bevin convened last December, when lawmakers went home without taking action.
The new law will allow the agencies to stay with the Kentucky Retirement Systems at full cost, leave the retirement system by paying a lump sum equal to future projected benefits payments or buy their way out in installment payments over 30 years.
It gives groups until next April to decide whether to leave the state retirement system after the conclusion of next year’s legislative session. That will give lawmakers time to make any changes they think are needed.
House Democrats offered an alternative that stalled in committee. Their plan included a long-term freeze of retirement payments paid by the agencies along with redirecting tens of millions in retiree health insurance payments to pension liabilities for five years. The retiree health insurance fund would have been paid back over time through higher annual payments to it. Supporters said it wouldn’t affect retirees’ health care benefits or premiums.
On Wednesday, the Senate defeated Democratic-sponsored amendments aimed at reshaping the bill.
Bevin criticized the alternatives as “really bad ideas.”
People wearing white shirts emblazoned with “Live United” flooded the Barren River region Wednesday for United Way of Southern Kentucky’s Day of Caring, an annual volunteer extravaganza serving nonprofits and public schools.
“It’s been amazing. There has been a great outpouring of community support,” said Debbie Hills, president and CEO of United Way of Southern Kentucky.
In the afternoon, attorneys and associates from the English, Lucas, Priest and Owsley law firm concluded one of the day’s final projects at The Foundry in Bowling Green.
The Foundry primarily serves preschool and elementary students in Bowling Green’s west end. The Foundry doesn’t charge families for its services, but it requires that parents are either working or are in school – and they take parenting classes.
“It’s one of the poorest communities in southcentral Kentucky,” said Will Downing, a coordinator for The Foundry’s summer and after-school programs.
“Not only do we take in the child, we take in the family,” Downing said. “As we’re not requiring money, we require they’re trying to better their lives.”
In the summer, The Foundry offers a monthlong summer camp for mostly elementary school students that keeps the students’ minds active and also exposes them to new life experiences, as many students don’t leave the west end, according to Downing.
During the school year, The Foundry offers preschool services in the day and activities for elementary school students after school. Due to limited funding – which comes from private donors and grants and subsidies – the organization only accepts about 50 students each year.
“Our biggest need is space, as we’re growing,” Downing said.
On Wednesday, ELPO staff mulched The Foundry’s playground and carried, piece by piece, furniture from the classrooms into the gym to prepare for the floors to be waxed.
“We’re helping The Foundry go through a deep cleaning to get ready for the new school year,” said Mandy Hicks, director of marketing and communications at ELPO.
Before joining the law firm in February, Hicks worked at United Way for more than a decade and even helped the organization create the annual event, which has grown from about 400 volunteers to more than 1,000 people from the community.
“It’s become a norm,” Hicks said. “And it’s not just employees, it’s also CEOs and presidents working shoulder to shoulder. It’s a bonding opportunity.”
Michael Owsley, a founding partner of ELPO, helped move furniture with two dozen other employees and a handful of co-worker family members.
“We get a lot more out of then we put into it,” Owsley said. “It’s a real eye-opener to come.”
This was Owsley’s first time participating in the Day of Caring, and he hopes to be able to provide support.
“They could do many more students (than the current 56 students) if they had more money,” he said. “We’re very interested in supporting The Foundry.”
Earlier in the day, ELPO workers also read stories to children at the Family Enrichment Center and Trace Die Cast. And before beginning work at The Foundry, Hicks requested the organization’s director of education, Susan McCloud, lead her co-workers through a tour of the facility to encourage them to understand its needs.
Before the day was over, the attorneys offered to host a few classes on common legal issues for parents.
In total, this year’s Day of Caring helped more than 50 organizations in the Barren River region.
The annual volunteer event also includes a special opportunity for people to learn how a hot air balloon works or even soar over the city.
Scott McClinton, owner of SkyCab Balloon Promotions, has been flying hot air balloons for three decades and partnered with the United Way Day of Caring event about seven years ago.
He tethers a hot air balloon at Western Kentucky University’s campus to teach young students about the science of hot air balloons and offer them an opportunity to see one up close. Then he offers a few rides across the city to a few lucky adults.
“What a quiet perspective. I have the greatest job in the world,” McClinton said.
The Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport has received a $7 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant to renovate an area around the airport’s main runway.
The area, dubbed “taxiway Alpha,” runs from the terminal to the runway.
“The federal government typically provides 90 percent of the funding for capital improvement projects” at the airport, Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson said.
That is the case with this project, where the city and county have planned to provide 2.5 percent of the cost each and the state government 5 percent of the roughly $8 million project.
“We are pleased to be able to provide quality air service in Bowling Green,” Wilkerson said.
The airport is jointly owned by the city and Warren County.
Interim airport manager Susan Harmon was not available Thursday morning, but she previously told the Daily News that “wear and tear” on Alpha’s pavement has caused the need for such a project.
“It’s in dire need of rehabilitation – it’s been here a long time,” Harmon said, adding that the pavement dips, is cracked and collects water in spots.
“It’s like a road – it has to be repaved from time to time,” Wilkerson said.
Harmon also told the Daily News the project will require some temporary closures.
“We will try to keep closures to a minimum,” Harmon said. “When they do happen, they will be for 48 hours or less.”
“Warren County and the surrounding communities have become a hub for businesses, and we need a top-notch airport to serve our growing community,” U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, said in a news release announcing the grant. “I look forward to seeing the results of this grant.”
SCOTTSVILLE – Sealed psychological and adoption records for a man accused of killing three relatives in Allen County will be viewed by attorneys in the case following a judge’s ruling Wednesday.
Edward Dilon Siddens, 29, of Scottsville, appeared in Allen Circuit Court for a hearing in his criminal case.
Siddens is accused of shooting Jimmy Neal Siddens, 73; his wife, Helen Siddens, 72; and their son, Jimmy Neal Siddens II, 41.
Their bodies were found Feb. 19, 2018, outside their home on Ray Pardue Road.
Edward Siddens has been charged with three counts of murder, theft by unlawful taking and violation of a Kentucky protection order.
Prosecutors are seeking enhanced penalties up to and including the death penalty.
Siddens’ defense team, consisting of attorneys Eric Clark and Alyson McDavitt of the Department of Public Advocacy, had filed a motion to access and review psychological records that include a mental health warrant for Edward Siddens and an adoption record for him as well.
A mental health warrant signed by a judge enables police to transport a mentally ill person who poses a danger to themselves, family or others as a result of their illness to a hospital for treatment.
Allen Circuit Judge Janet Crocker said she has reviewed the warrant taken out against Siddens as well as adoption records that indicate that Jimmy and Helen Siddens, Edward’s grandparents, adopted him and were Edward’s adoptive parents at the time of their deaths.
“These records may or may not have any bearing on the issues of guilt or sentencing,” Crocker said.
Clark said the defense’s investigation of the case is ongoing.
Siddens has not been ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation while in custody on this case and his defense team has not raised any issues regarding his competency to stand trial or assist in his own defense.
According to court documents, Siddens’ biological mother, Shelley Siddens, disclosed to police early in the investigation into the triple homicide that she believed her son was responsible.
The statements were made soon after Kentucky State Police found the bodies of the three victims.
“Shelley Siddens went on to state Edward Siddens had made threats before to harm her father and also her,” KSP Detective Adam Morgan said in an affidavit supporting a search warrant.
A 2004 Ford F-250 belonging to Jimmy Neal Siddens was missing and his bank card had been used in Iowa on the same date that police responded to the discovery of the bodies, court records show.
Investigators were able to obtain information about a cellphone Siddens was known to use, and were able to determine he was in Colorado, where a member of the Sedgwick County (Colo.) Sheriff’s Department located the missing truck and engaged in a pursuit that resulted in Siddens’ arrest.
“Deputy Carlton Britton with Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Department stated multiple firearms were in plain view,” Morgan said in an affidavit for a search warrant. “Edward Siddens made a spontaneous statement ‘the owner of the vehicle is no longer with us.’ ”
He confessed to the shooting deaths of his grandparents and uncle after being taken into custody and advised of his rights, court records show.
Crocker set a pretrial conference for Nov. 15