FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Reactions were swift and predictably varied to the Kentucky Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling to nix the public pension bill.
Attorney General Andy Beshear called it a “landmark victory for Kentucky families” while Gov. Matt Bevin said it was “a sad day.”
On Thursday morning, the high court affirmed a local court ruling, which found the process used to pass the public pension bill during the 2018 General Assembly was unconstitutional.
In a morning press conference, Beshear was reveling in a victory that he predicted last spring when the pension bill was pushed through. He reminded reporters after the decision was handed down that when the bill was passed, he would sue and would win. “We have kept that promise: we sued and we won.”
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd held the legislature violated Section 46 of the Kentucky Constitution by failing to give the bill a reading on three different days in each chamber and failing to obtain 51 votes in the Kentucky House as required for bills that appropriate money or create debt.
In writing the majority opinion, Justice Daniel Venters said while Senate Bill 151, which was originally a wastewater bill transformed into a public pension bill was not read in its entirety, it was read by its number and title, which should suffice constitutionally.
However, he noted, “The words ‘SB 151’ were indeed ‘read’ three times, but the title read along with that designation was ‘An act relating to the local provision of wastewater services.’
“Although read only by title, the title by which SB 151 was read never had any connection with the subject matter of the measure enacted: ‘An act relating to retirement,’ nor did it connote any information to signify that the act related to public pensions, or the retirement of public employees,” Venters wrote.
The appellants in the case, led by Bevin, argued the Kentucky Education Reform Act was passed after last-minute amendments were added. However, Justice Venters wrote, “The amendments made to the KERA bill did not gut the contents of the bill and replace it with legislation relating to an entirely different subject matter.”
In a separate, but concurring opinion, Justice Laurence VanMeter concentrated on how legislation is read in each chamber.
“’Reading by title’ does not equate to ‘reading at length’ as required by Sections 46 and 56 [of the Constitution],” he said. “Other states with similar requirements have devised any number of solutions, including electronic speed reading. A better solution to the concerns that the exigencies of modern society make reading at length impractical is that contained within the Kentucky Constitution: amendment.”
Beshear, who brought the suit shortly after Gov. Bevin signed it into law, said it was a victory for Kentucky families.
“Today’s decision is a landmark win for all of our Kentucky families because it makes our government treat them with dignity and respect,” he said. “Our government should never lock the people out of this Capitol, or out of the legislative process. Our Governor should never call our public servants names, and our elected leaders should never put themselves above the people they serve.”
Bevin also met with reporters following the high court ruling, called it a “sad day” for Kentucky.
“It’s a sad day for anybody who hopes to retire after years of government employment,” he said. “It’s a sad day for the rule of law, it’s just a sad day, it really is.”
Bevin said he met with all the presidents of the universities that have employees in the pension plan right before his press conference.
“To say that there is concern on their part would be a remarkable understatement,” he said. “And they speak for just a small portion of the hundreds of thousands of people, and family members of those people, that are affected by the fact that we have now seen the only chance to save the worst-funded pension system in America, struck down unanimously; based on some arbitrary procedural ruling which, frankly, calls into question the very same procedure that has passed bill after bill after bill since the 1880s at least in this state.”