Why the Kentucky high court struck down the pension bill

Pension bill ruled unconstitutional by Kentucky Supreme Court

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - The Kentucky Supreme Court has affirmed a lower courts decision that a sewer bill, turned into legislation concerning the pension of public employees, passed last March is unconstitutional.

Months after protests, signs still hung at the capitol on Thursday - and the decision was unanimous.

"From this day forward, the legislature has to act in the light of day and never again under the cover of night," Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said.

Seven supreme court justices ruled the way in which Senate Bill 151 passed, not it’s content, voided it, due to an unconstitutional number of votes and readings.

The decision regarding SB 151 issued by the court reads:

“Upon review, we conclude that the passage of SB 151 did not comply with the three-readings requirement of § 46 and that the legislation is, therefore, constitutionally invalid and declared void. Based upon this disposition, we do not address the arguments challenging the substantive provisions of SB 151.”


The bill was completely overhauled in just hours in the Kentucky legislature last March.

The bill was struck down unanimously in Frankfort.
The bill was struck down unanimously in Frankfort.

In September, Attorney General Andy Beshear and lawyers representing Governor Matt Bevin faced off delivering oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court to determine if the law should be voided. The justices fixed their questions on whether the legislature used constitutional methods to pass the bill, including whether a proper number of readings and votes were obtained. That was the part of the issue lower courts decided, and the attorney general argued, should be focused on.

An attorney representing the governor argued that the question of constitutionality lay in the substance of the bill – which is unpopular with some because, among other things, it requires new teachers be part of a cash-hybrid balance retirement plan.

Beshear faced off with Gov. Bevin's lawyers in September over whether the law should be voided.
Beshear faced off with Gov. Bevin's lawyers in September over whether the law should be voided. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

"151 said were going to at least put a band-aid on the bottom of the bucket," Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin said. "Now, we've had a Supreme Court rip that band-aid off. So, now you're going to continue to see the hemorrhaging."

Bevin said that he believes it’s now increasingly less likely the $38 billion pension crisis will be solved, and the state credit rating will go down.

He added the judicial move is a slap in the face to the legislature, it will open a host of lawsuits regarding similarly passed bills- and said it was largely a Beshear family political stunt, which hurts Kentuckians.

“Who are being treated as political pawns by people who really didn’t, including the Beshears, give a flying rip about these people,” Bevin said.

Beshear said that's not true. He added the courts specifically addressed additional lawsuit and separation of power arguments.

Bevin said he now believes it's less likely the pension problem will be solved.
Bevin said he now believes it's less likely the pension problem will be solved. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

Both said it’s now in the hands of the legislature to come up for a solution to save the pension. Beshear, the FOP and KEA said, at a joint press conference Thursday, expanded gaming could help pay for it.

“If it has dedicated streams of money that support public pensions or public schools, yes,” Stephanie Winkler, President of the KEA, said.

But despite the intense arguments related to what Bevin called the worst funded pension in the country, all said they agree on one thing.

"We need to save the pension system," Bevin said.

Kentucky House Republicans released a statement, opposed to the decision, which said the process deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court has been used for at least a half-century.

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