Our View: Supreme Court ruling a win for transparency
Published 10:04 am Friday, December 14, 2018
The Kentucky Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday to overturn Senate Bill 151 is a victory in more ways than one. It upholds the state’s constitution, affirms the checks and balances system and supports transparency on the part of our lawmakers.
Thursday’s ruling unanimously affirmed a June ruling by Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd that struck down the law.
As our news partner Kentucky Today reported, “Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd held the legislature violated Section 46 of the Kentucky Constitution, by failing to give the bill a reading on three different days in each chamber, and failing to obtain 51 votes in the Kentucky House as required for bills that appropriate money or create debt.”
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While we won’t debate the contents of the bill here — as the ruling does not address those issues either — we have from the beginning argued that the process used to pass the public pension bill in the 2018 session was unconstitutional.
SB 151, which altered retirement plans for future teachers in hopes of eradicating a multi-billion dollar unfunded liability for the state’s pension systems, was passed in the final days for the 2018 general session. The bill was originally written as a wastewater treatment bill, which had already received most of the necessary readings.
On the 57th day of the 60-day session, Republican lawmakers gutted the bill, tacking on much of Senate Bill 1, which had stalled in Frankfort. With that, a sewage bill turned pension reform bill was pushed through the House and Senate to passage in mere hours.
Few lawmakers, if any, had the chance to read in full let alone analyze the impact of the 291-page bill before any of the votes occurred.
As a whole, our lawmakers did a disservice to their constituents by being unable to work across the aisle and find a compromise that treats all taxpayers and stakeholders fairly. Instead, they resorted to political maneuvers that resulted in the unconstitutional passage of a bill that would have long-lasting impacts on Kentucky’s teachers and public employees.
Attorney General Andy Beshear filed the lawsuit arguing that the process used to pass the bill was unconstitutional and breaks the state’s inviolable contract, with Gov. Matt Bevin arguing otherwise. Bevin and his attorneys have also argued that judges do not have the authority to rule on these matters, but rather legislators have exclusive power to make state law.
This ruling also affirms the needs for a solid checks and balances system at all levels of government. This system is something we learn in our social studies classes as children, and come to understand as being critical to our democracy.
Kentucky’s underfunded pension system is something that must be addressed in the next session. Our lawmakers have no choice but to act on the matter.
Most importantly, Thursday’s ruling has guaranteed that they have no choice but to act responsibly, legally and transparently no matter what bill they pass.