Several area legislators said there is still time for the General Assembly to pass a pension reform bill during a special session this year.

But at least one local legislator said he would prefer waiting until legislators go into regular session in January before tackling a pension bill, and every legislator reached said it would be possible to handle pension reform during a regular session, if necessary.

Sen. Joe Bowen, an Owensboro Republican who has worked on the pension issue as co-chair of the Public Pension Oversight Board, said not addressing the pension problem at all would have serious consequences that would be felt immediately when legislators sit down during the 2018 session to craft the next state budget.

"If it doesn't happen, we'll have a really ugly budget," Bowen said Monday. "We'll have to make severe cuts all across the budget. They will be unpopular cuts, but that's all that's left."

Problems with the state's pension systems for teachers and public employees have been widely reported in recent months. Kentucky has the worst-funded pension system in the country, because of a variety of factors. Investments into the systems didn't yield projected returns and the state didn't make its full payments into the systems at times. Also there are more people drawing pensions from the systems than there are workers paying into them.

Estimates on the state's pension liability vary from $30 billion to $80 billion.

The pension bill released in October was unpopular with some affected groups. Local education officials in Owensboro and Daviess County, for example, said the proposed changes would make it difficult to recruit and retain teachers. Also, officials with the Owensboro Fire Department and Owensboro Police Department said concerns about how the bill would affect people nearing retirement would prompt officers and firefighters to retire early.

House Republicans met Tuesday to go over changes to the bill. Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, a Belton Republican, said she could not say what changes were discussed Tuesday, but they addressed some of her concerns.

"It sounds better, to me, but I'm still not sure," Prunty said. Her concerns centered on "recruiting and retention (of teachers) and the impact on school budgets, and city and county budgets," she said.

"We feel we are making a lot of good progress," Prunty said.

The revised bill will also have to be considered by Senate Republicans, which officials expect to happen this week, Prunty said.

"We don't know if there is going to be a special session," Prunty said.

Rep. Robby Mills, a Henderson Republican who represents part of Daviess County, said he thinks there is "still a possibility" of a special session this year.

"I think the most important thing is for everyone to understand what we're working on," Mills said Tuesday. "The process is the process, and it takes a little bit of time.

"I think there's a little glimmer of hope" for a special session, Mills said. "I don't have anything scheduled for the first two weeks of December."

Rep. D.J. Johnson, an Owensboro Republican, said he would prefer to wait until the opening week of the 2018 session to do the bill, because that would give legislators time to hear from the public about the revisions.

"If there is (a special session), I'll show up and do my job and get it done," Johnson said. "But I'm more comfortable we could get it done in the first or second week of regular session ... I think it's realistic we can get it done that first week."

Johnson said he was "generally satisfied" with what he heard Tuesday about the bill's revisions.

Rep. Suzanne Miles, an Owensboro Republican, and Rep. Matt Castlen, a Maceo Republican, did not return calls Tuesday for comment.

Mills said legislators are working to address concerns they've heard about the bill, and with legislators and officials from Gov. Matt Bevin's office "90 percent there" on an agreement.

Prunty said passing the bill during the regular session "could be very possible."

Bowen said if a special session is going to be held, "the only two weeks it could be feasible would be the week of (December) 11th, and (the week of) the 18th."

"There's still a strong possibility of a special session next month," Bowen said. "But (with) the fact that we've been listening to stakeholders, hearing their concerns and making some revisions to the draft, the window of opportunity is closing fast."

Legislators could pass the bill in the 2018 session "if, and only if, it is a priority," Bowen said. "We can't afford to not make it a priority."

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