Fate of pension case now in Judge Shepherd's hands

06/07/2018 02:25 PM

FRANKFORT- After a little more than two hours of oral arguments, the fate of the pension bill lawsuit will now be decided by Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd, at least until it’s appealed.

The Franklin County Circuit Courtroom was filled with teachers dressed in red, attentively listening as Attorney General Andy Beshear, D-Kentucky, made his case against the Bevin Administration and the General Assembly about the legality of Senate Bill 151.

Beshear laid out his argument against the bill in about 40 minutes. He focused on the process in which the bill was passed and how he claims the law breaks the inviolable contract.

Beshear argued the process by which the law was passed was illegal because the bill was not given three readings, and it was not passed in the House of Representatives with the 51 votes required by the Kentucky Constitution. To back up his point, Beshear referred to section 46 of the Constitution, which establishes the three reading clause. Beshear said this was created to prevent exactly what happened, the passage of Senate Bill 151 within six hours of being introduced. The quick passage of the bill prevents transparency and public input, Beshear argued.

Steve Pitt, General Counsel for the Bevin Administration, however, argued that the process of adding an amendment onto a bill with enough readings was a practice that is completely legal and used often. The defense also said the focus of proving this bill unconstitutional through the process in which it was passed, proved that the contents of the bill were legal. Pitt also said this process is often used due to the short time the General Assembly has to pass legislation each year and that requiring three readings of each change to a bill would cause the legislature to “stand still.” Pitt also refuted the claims that the public did not have input into SB 151. Gov. Bevin’s attorney argued that because SB 151 contained most of the same language as SB 1, which received heavy public input, the bill was crafted with the input from those affected.

The second part of the lawsuit, Beshear argued the law was illegal because it broke the so-called inviolable contract with state pensioners. Beshear said the contract was broken due to elimination of benefits, mainly a change in the way leftover sick days are paid out. However, Pitt argued that sick days are not specified in the contract with a teacher, therefore changes to them do not break it. Furthermore, Pitt added, sick days are not put in the constitution, so claiming the lawsuit is unconstitutional on that grounds is baseless.

During his opening statement, Pitt said SB 151 does not hurt any teacher benefits because the cost of living adjustment, or COLA, was not reduced as it was originally in SB1, in fact, saying it helped teachers. When Pitt reiterated this sentiment in his closing remarks, a brief outburst among teachers ensued in the courtroom.

In his original lawsuit, Beshear stated having Speaker Pro Temp David Osborne, R-Prospect, sign SB 151, made it void since he was not the Speaker of the House. Beshear dropped that part of the lawsuit Thursday, citing there was enough other illegal contents of the law to support invalidating it. Pitt, however, took the withdrawal of that as an indicator that the whole case was baseless.

In the closing statements, Beshear said he brought this lawsuit to protect the 200,000 public employees and teachers from getting their pensions diminished. Pitt, however, made the argument that without SB 151, the pension system would become insolvent and that the plaintiffs failed to bring enough evidence to support their case.

After the hearing, Beshear spoke about the defense’s argument that the contract was not broken for teachers.

“It eliminates any inviolable contract for future teachers. Anyone who starts after this bill’s passage, unless we void it, has no benefits guaranteed to them whatsoever. They could even take the benefits away that they are planning on providing. We won’t get the best teachers. That’s a pay cut to teachers that are about to start. And also, the legislature in their briefs admitted that there are members in KTRS whose sick days are being cut,” he said.

Meanwhile, Steve Pitt said he was walking away from the courtroom on Thursday feeling positive about the case he presented.

“I think because the plaintiffs failed to rebut our crucial facts in this case that we should get summary judgement. But the court is obviously graveling with some novel issues here so I can’t prophesize what’s going to happen,” he said.

Judge Shepherd says he hopes to have the decision soon to give either party time to appeal and bring the case before the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Michon Lindstrom

Michon is a producer for Pure Politics. Michon comes to Kentucky from Springfield, Illinois where she served as the statehouse reporter for the NBC affiliate. During her time in the Land of Lincoln she covered the state’s two year budget impasse and the largest school funding overall in Illinois history. Pure Politics airs weeknights at 7 and 11:30 on Spectrum News. Follow Michon on Twitter at @MichonLindstrom or reach her by email at michon.lindstrom@charter.com

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