Kentucky's High Court hears pension lawsuit arguments

09/20/2018 01:56 PM

FRANKFORT- The fate of retirement benefits for thousands of workers now lay in the hands of the high court.

The Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments from the Bevin Administration and Attorney General Andy Beshear on the constitutionality of Senate Bill 151.

A lower court in June ruled the pension bill unconstitutional and void because the General Assembly violated the Kentucky Constitution, specifically when it came to the three reading requirement and the majority vote requirement.

The arguments heard Thursday were similar to the ones heard in the June. Steve Pitt, General Counsel for the Bevin Administration began his arguments using a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar play—to highlight the pension shortfall Kentucky is facing. Pitt stated if the decision of the lower court is upheld, Kentucky’s pension system will become insolvent.

“If this court’s decision that it must make based upon the law is that we are left in the shallows and in the miseries, so be it. That’s what the law requires,” Pitt told the Justices. “I hesitate greatly to state the obvious but much is at stake with this case, we are indeed at a fork in the road.”

Pitt said there are two points to the case, the legislative procedural arguments and the meaning of the inviolable contract. The Franklin Circuit Court only ruled on the procedural argument—and did not rule if the contents of the 291 page bill were unconstitutional.

Pitt reasserted the procedure used to pass the bill was constitutional. He also argued that the General Assembly can interpret for themselves what it means to read a bill.

Pitt argued the Kentucky Constitution does not require each bill be read in full each time an amendment is made. Justice Bill Cunnigham was interested in what the title of the bill was when it passed the House before it moved to the Senate. Justices were also curious if an amendment is tacked onto a bill— and where it should it have to be germane to the original bill topic. Pitt says no, since the Kentucky Constitution does not have a provision requiring that.

But Beshear told justices that the question is more focused on what a reading isn’t, rather than what a reading is. Arguing, if a bill is completely gutted it must be read three separate times.

When SB 151 was originally in the Senate, it was titled as a waste water bill. As he did in June, Pitt argued Senate Bill 151 was virtually the same bill as Senate Bill 1 which had numerous public hearings. He said SB 151 was used as the vehicle bill because there were not enough days left for the House to vote on SB 1.

“This is something the General Assembly has done for 100 years.” Pitt said.

Pitt also reiterated the claim, if this process is ruled unconstitutional then thousands of bills passed in the same fashion will be ruled void.

Beshear said this process is exactly what the constitution was created to prevent and argued no two bills are the same.

“It was supposed to prevent legislation by ambush. It was supposed to prevent any bill from becoming a law in a single day.” Beshear said.

Justice Cunningham questioned the similarity of SB 1 and SB 151, which Beshear said was impossible for lawmakers to figure out since SB 151 was voted on hours after it was first presented.

Justices were also curious about the actuarial analysis of the bill, which was completed after the bill passed the General Assembly.

“Is this something where substantial compliance can be enough?” asked Justice Michelle Keller.

Beshear maintained it could not, because the law requires an actuarial analysis of a bill be completed before it is passed out of committee—not days after.

“Everyone that commented said there was no analysis, so the concept that everyone there believed they were voting without an analysis, that somehow we can read on in wouldn’t be substantial compliance it would be more of fictional compliance.” Beshear said.

Pitt ended his arguments calling into question whether the Supreme Court should be ruling on how the General Assembly does their job.

“This court should not be making decisions and construing language that the legislature can best do itself.” Pitt said.

Attorney General Andy Beshear refuted this claim, saying allowing the legislature to check themselves is absurd. Beshear quoted an old ruling by the court which rejected this argument.

“This court rejected that in the Rose case, in pretty stark language. It said ‘to allow the General Assembly, or point of fact the executive, to decide whether its acts are constitutional is literally unthinkable.” Beshear said.

The decision made by the Kentucky Supreme Court will be final.

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


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