Get after legislators for their secrecy

Today is the 34th day of the legislative session, so Kentucky lawmakers have slightly less than half of their 60-day session to accomplish many pressing needs for the state.

One bill that would make it easier for the public to know how much money the legislators receive in pension benefits when they retire is probably dead on arrival in the House State Government Committee chaired by Rep. Brent Yonts, a Greenville Democrat.

But this legislation is not as complicated as Yonts and other opponents want their constituents to believe. In fact, there is plenty of time to pass Senate Bill 45. And lawmakers should approve it because the public has every right to know how lawmakers benefit from legislation they adopt in their own interest.

Here’s what SB 45 says: “. require the disclosure, upon request, of the retirement benefit information of current and former members of the General Assembly, including their name, status and projected or actual retirement benefit payments and benefits of the same from the Kentucky Retirement Systems, Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, Legislators’ Retirement Plan and the Judicial Retirement Plan.”

If this bill passed, anyone could make an open records request to see how much lawmakers receive in pension benefits.

Yonts has said he does not believe lawmakers have an obligation to reveal financial information to the public after they have left the General Assembly.

Recently, the New Era invited Yonts to write an op-ed to explain his position in more detail. He declined, but he did say he believes the legislation as written could be challenged in court because some former lawmakers who have already retired could argue the state changed the rules on them after they were already in the pension system. So we asked if he would be willing to amend the legislation to address his concerns about a legal challenge. He said no, he wouldn’t because there are too many other matters that require the General Assembly’s attention before this session ends.

That’s a shame. Kentucky taxpayers deserve a measure of transparency that is currently missing in legislative pensions.

The Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-led House differ on this legislation. It sailed through the Senate with bipartisan support and passed 38-0 on Jan. 19. Six days later, it was assigned to the House committee Yonts chairs.

As always, there are so many bills and issues pressing in the General Assembly this year. The new governor, Republican Matt Bevin, is trying to cut $650 million in state spending in the next two years — and much of his budget approach deals with shoring up $36 billion in public pension debt.

Opponents of the pension transparency bill for legislators are counting on Kentuckians to be too distracted and disinterested to demand passage of SB 45.

Still, we find it hard to believe that most Kentuckians support secrecy in legislative pensions.

It’s going to take an outcry from constituents to get the attention of lawmakers like Yonts who don’t want to pass this bill. It’s going to take some action from many Kentuckians who aren’t accustomed to calling, writing and emailing their lawmakers. Now’s the time. The clock is ticking on this session, and it’s your money.

Kentucky New Era

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