FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — A Franklin Circuit Court judge ruled Wednesday afternoon that a pension reform law backed by Gov. Matt Bevin is unconstitutional, declaring the process that brought if forth a "legislative sleight-of-hand."
Bevin signed Senate Bill 151 into law on April 10 after a divisive process that saw the bill begin life as a measure governing wastewater management before being replaced with pension reform language.
Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office challenged the law immediately, claiming the procedure used to move the legislation through the General Assembly was flawed and that the changes enacted illegally changed the "inviolable contract" between the state and public workers.
Today’s decision is a win for open, honest government, ruling that the Kentucky General Assembly violated the Constitution when it turned an 11-page sewer bill into a 291-page pension bill.
— KY Attorney General (@kyoag) June 20, 2018
The law made changes to the Kentucky Employees Retirement Systems, County Employees Retirement Systems, State Police Retirement System and Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement Systems.
The ruling by Judge Phillip J. Shepherd found the law violated the Kentucky Constitution and therefore is "null and void."
Shepherd found SB 151 failed to receive three readings as required by Section 46 of the state Constitution. He also found that the bill violated a Section 46 requirement that measures involving appropriation of money must "receive the votes of at least two-fifths of the members elected to each House."
Beshear held a news conference in Frankfort shortly after the ruling.
"We promised our teachers, firefighters, social workers, police officers, that if they dedicate their lives to public service, teaching our children, protecting our families, serving the neglected, that we would guarantee them a good retirement," Beshear said. "The commonwealth must keep that promise."
Republican Party of Kentucky Communications Director Tres Watson struck a defiant stance, vowing to appeal the ruling.
"We’re not surprised Judge Shepherd sided with Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear in his politically motivated lawsuit against the General Assembly’s efforts to save our state retirement system," Watson said in a statement. "We are confident this decision will be overturned upon appeal."
House Democratic leader Rocky Adkins heralded the ruling.
“I appreciate today’s ruling, which is a victory in every sense of the word for the people of Kentucky, especially our teachers, public employees and retirees," Adkins said in a statement. "It confirms the arguments that House Democrats and I made as we soon saw the bill. I said it was a bad bill then; it’s still a bad bill today; and Judge Shepherd reaffirmed that with his opinion.”
Read the full order below: