FRANKFORT -- July 19 is a "very likely" starting date for a pension-related special legislative session, Kentucky House Majority Leader John "Bam" Carney said Tuesday.

The purpose of the session would be to pass a bill giving relief to quasi-governmental groups from the soaring pension costs they must pay starting this month.

Carney, R-Campbellsville, said in an impromptu interview at the Capitol Annex on Tuesday that date is not certain, and he stressed only Gov. Matt Bevin can call a special legislative session.

But he said, "I think that date is very likely, and if it doesn't occur on that date we're really going to have a hard time planning it anytime real soon based just on various things that are going on."

Rep. Jerry T. Miller, an Eastwood Republican who chairs the House committee that handles pension bills, said in a phone interview, "I understand that July 19 is the starting date that's been given to the governor for when we can get the votes required to pass the bill there ... So now it's up to him."

Bevin's office did not respond to an email and telephone message Tuesday afternoon.

Regional state universities, local health departments and many other so-called quasi-governmental groups are the ones affected by the pension hike, which kicked in on July 1. It takes pension costs from 49% of their annual payroll to about 83%.

Lawmakers passed a bill providing the relief in late March, but Bevin vetoed it because he said part of it was illegal and contained a wrong effective date. The governor promised to call a special legislative session in the spring to quickly pass a new version of the bill.

But, although his fellow Republicans hold super majorities in both the House and Senate, Bevin has had a hard time rallying sufficient votes for his version of the bill -- particularly in the House.

Republicans hold a 61-39 majority in the House and a 29-9 majority in the Senate.

The bill gives all affected groups a one-year delay in paying the higher rate and also offers various options to the groups if they want to pay up their accrued liabilities and get out of Kentucky's troubled pension plan.

On June 19, Bevin's staff said it had secured sufficient votes to pass the bill and that it was just a matter of scheduling the special session when enough supporters would be able to attend and pass the bill.

Some lawmakers have long-planned vacations, a few have mission trips scheduled, and several plan to attend one of the annual legislative summer conventions, Carney said. (The Southern Legislative Conference is scheduled for July 13-17 in New Orleans, the National Conference of State Legislatures gathering is Aug. 5-8 in Nashville.)

Carney said July 19, a Friday, looks like the best date to start.

Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said he's heard from majority Republicans in the Senate and House this week that July 19 will be the starting date.

"I've heard nothing official, but based on what I have been told, we're preparing to be in Frankfort on July 19," McGarvey said. "This is not the first time we've heard a likely starting date for the session, but this time it seems more likely."

Few, if any, lawmakers have a problem giving the groups a year's reprieve from paying the higher rate. But Democrats and some Republicans have problems with a part of the bill that gives the groups options to pay off their liabilities and exit the state pension plan. Many opponents say the bill will cause groups to select an option to pay off their liabilities over time that would require them to freeze pension benefits of employees who started work before Jan. 1, 2014 and move them into a 401(k)-like plan for accruing future retirement benefits.

Opponents say this slashes benefits anticipated by many such employees, who should have the option to remain within the state plan even if their employer gets out. This option was within the bill passed by the House and Senate in March but is not part of Bevin's proposed bill.

It takes five meeting days for a bill to complete the legislative process.

Carney said the tentative schedule would be for lawmakers to meet July 19-20, then take off Sunday when they are not allowed to convene. The session would resume Monday when the House would vote on the bill. The session would continue Tuesday and Wednesday when the full Senate would vote, he said.

Because lawmakers are paid while in session, regardless of whether they convene, such a session would last six days at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $65,505 per day -- or a total of $393,030.

Asked if he believed the governor has the votes to pass the bill in the House, Carney said, "It is our understanding that they have the numbers. Again, it's very close. Barring a few changes from members, I think we're there."

As to whether there might be any changes by lawmakers to the bill offered by Bevin, Carney said, "Not at this point. A lot of members would like to, but we're at a point now where we need to get this issue done, but with the intent of coming back in January and taking a much deeper look at this issue."

Carney was referring to the regular legislative session that begins in January 2020.

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