Kentucky Supreme Court Strikes Down Pension Law

Hurried legislation tucked in a sewage bill ruled by court as unconstitutional.

Kentucky’s Supreme Court has ruled against a pension reform law that had outraged the state’s attorney general and teachers because it had been inserted into a sewage services bill without public comment or testimony.  The court ruled that state lawmakers didn’t have a “fair opportunity” to consider it before it was passed.

The Supreme Court upheld a circuit court ruling that found that the legislature violated section 46 of the Kentucky Constitution by failing to give the bill a reading on three different days in each legislative chamber, and by failing to obtain 51 votes in the House of Representatives as required for a bill which appropriates money or creates a debt.

“The primary concern advanced in this case is that the three-day readings requirement of [section] 46 was not followed,” said the Supreme Court.  The bill “in its original form relating to the provision of local waste water services, purportedly had its first reading on March 12, 2018. It appears not to have been read at length. Are the plain provisions of our Constitution mandatory, or not?”

The Supreme Court also cited Section 51 of the Kentucky Constitution, which states that “no law enacted by the General Assembly shall relate to more than one subject.”

“This is a landmark win for our hardworking teachers, police officers, firefighters, EMS, social workers, and all city, county, and state employees,” said Kentucky’s Attorney General Andy Beshear, who led the lawsuit to overturn the law. “Our government broke its promise and betrayed its people.”

The ruling was also praised by Tim Abrams, executive director of the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association. He said in a statement that the ruling “provides the citizens of our state with a unique opportunity to put aside partisan rhetoric and come together to craft a legislative solution to our current pension crisis.”

However, the ruling was decried by Republican state lawmakers, and Gov. Matt Bevin, who accused the Supreme Court of usurping the power bestowed on state lawmakers.

Bevin slammed the ruling in a tweet as “an unprecedented power grab by activist judges,” adding that the “Kentucky Supreme Court has chosen to take for itself the law-making power that the constitution grants to the legislature.”

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said the ruling “places in jeopardy years of excellent legislation that could now fall under potential legal challenge, adding that decision “opens up a ‘Pandora’s box’ of problems for the commonwealth.”  

And the state’s House majority leadership issued a statement that said “the process deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court has been utilized for at least a half-century by both parties to pass critical legislation, and has never been challenged until now,” adding that “the consequences of today’s unwise decision will be far-reaching—particularly for the separation of powers that lie at the heart of our system of government.”

Last week, state Republican leaders said that if the Supreme Court ruled against the pension reform law, that they would work toward passing another one.

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