This week the Kentucky Supreme Court will hear the case regarding SB 151, the pension-gutting law that was hurriedly passed earlier this year. This case is an appeal of the ruling of Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd that struck down SB 151 for the unconstitutional manner in which it was passed. Governor Matt Bevin decided to appeal directly to the state supreme court following Judge Shepherd’s ruling. The hearing this week continues the long-running saga of the fight to protect pensions in Kentucky.
A year ago at this time, public employees, retirees, and their allies were waiting on Gov. Bevin to call a special session of the legislature to address public pensions. Despite many promises throughout last year, Gov. Bevin never called a special session. When the regular 2018 legislative session began in early January, many expected pension legislation to be quickly introduced. Again, no action was taken. Finally, at the very end of February, state senator Bowen introduced a pension bill. Despite a favorable vote in the committee that Bowen chairs, the bill was pulled from the senate floor due to a lack of support and sent back to committee. To many, that appeared to be the end of the legislature’s attempt to gut pensions this year.
Suddenly, a month later, rumors began again. There were whispers of secret pension legislation being drafted behind closed doors. On Thursday, March 29, the House State Government Committee attached the pension legislation to SB 151, a bill originally dealing with “wastewater services.” Within eight hours, SB 151 had passed the committee, the House floor, the Senate floor, and was on its way to Gov. Bevin’s desk for his signature. He signed it a week later.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, the Kentucky Education Association, and the Fraternal Order of Police immediately sued to stop the legislation from taking effect. On Thursday, June 7, Judge Shepherd heard the case brought against the law. On Wednesday, June 20, he ruled against the law, determining that the state legislature violated constitutional procedures for passing legislation. On Friday, August 10, Gov. Bevin appealed Judge Shepherd’s ruling and the Kentucky Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in September. The Court is expected to rule quickly.
NPPC will be closely following the Supreme Court oral arguments. Advocates for public pensions in Kentucky are not just waiting for the court to rule. With the midterm elections quickly approaching, public pension supporters are encouraging candidates for state legislature to take a stand for retirement security and vote to protect pensions. These pension supporters will remember the votes of state legislators on SB 151 when they go to the polls in November.