Court Battle Begins over New Kentucky Pension Change

Democratic AG seeks to overturn GOP-passed measure that would move teachers into a hybrid retirement plan.

The first day of Attorney General Andy Beshear’s lawsuit against Kentucky’s controversial pension bill pitted the Democrat, the son of a former governor, against Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. During the Thursday debate, a Franklin judge issued a timeline on the court’s ruling amidst a political battle over the legality of a bill that would switch the defined benefit plans of teachers to a hybrid cash-balance plan.

“I stand with and am fighting for teachers, police officers, firefighters, social workers, and other public servants. Gov. Bevin has filed this type of motion before and the courts have rejected it every time,” Beshear said in a Twitter video update regarding the Thursday hearing, during which presiding Judge Phillip Shepherd said a decision on the suit will be made in early June.

Bevin has had issues with the pension reform, saying in a recent announcement where he vetoed budgetary and tax bills that the pension bill was unable to do enough on its own.

Following the signing, which occurred within the final days of the legislative session and was included in a sewage bill, he has seemingly changed his tune over whether the bill can solve the Bluegrass State’s $40 billion-plus deficit.  In a post-signing interview with WHAS radio, Bevin called the pension reform “a very good bill.”

Following Bevin’s signing of the teacher-opposed pension reform into law last week, Beshear filed a lawsuit against the measure immediately. Beshear is looking to have the bill thrown out in court, challenging the legality of its passage as it was snuck into the sewage bill and was not given the opportunity for outside comment.

Teachers, who oppose the bill because it not only moves new hires to a hybrid cash-balance plan instead of a defined benefits plan, but also reduces sick days that can be used toward retirement, commenced a statewide strike against the new law on April 13.

In court, Beshear and Bevin’s lawyers clashed over the bill. The Courier-Journal reports that Beshear calling the measure a “secret backroom deal,” and claimed that the GOP-controlled legislature has abused the system. “We deserve better government,” said Beshear, whose father Steve, also a Democrat, was a former attorney general and the governor who preceded Bevin.

The publication reports that Bevin’s attorneys have filed a motion to disqualify the Beshear administration from the lawsuit over conflict of interest concerns regarding the pension reform. The governor’s lawyers responded by arguing that Beshear had actually broken the rules of the state’s attorney professional conduct code by providing legal advice on the bill to Kentucky lawmakers.

Bevin’s general counsel Steve Pitt said it “doesn’t matter whether it’s the attorney general or a regular practicing lawyer” in regards to giving lawmakers the legal advice. “You cannot provide legal advice to people and then have them accept that legal advice or reject that legal advice and then turn around and sue them,” he said.

Beshear does not believe he will be disqualified nor does he think the court will take the governor’s side in the pension reform.

“In the end, the Bevin administration simply wants to prevent me from fighting for teachers and firefighters, and for making them accountable,” Beshear said.

“Andy Beshear has become the first Attorney General in Kentucky history to claim that every law passed by a session of the state legislature is invalid,” said Pitt. “By placing politics above the law, the ‘chief law officer’ of the Commonwealth has called into question every act of the 2018 General Assembly.”

Judge Shepherd is expecting to hear arguments regarding the disqualification dilemma next week.

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