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Pension Bill Prompts Rapid Court Challenge By Attorney General

Josh James
Protesters swarm the Kentucky Capitol to protest pension reforms and education budget cuts on April 2, 2018.

Kentucky’s top law enforcement official is taking aim at the state’s freshly-signed pension reform bill. Unions representing public school teachers and police are also lending their names to the lawsuit.

"I wish it had not come to this, but we warned the General Assembly and the governor," Attorney General Andy Beshear told reporters Wednesday.

The Democrat announced he’s suing to block and ultimately roll back the pension overhaul that’s drawn throngs of protesters to the Capitol in the waning days of the 60-day legislative session, and his list of reasons was long.

"It violates the rights of tens of thousands of Kentuckians," Beshear charged. "It was passed without public comment, without any analysis about whether it would even work, and without a chance for most legislators to even read it."

Beshear told reporters the bill – which alters how current teachers can use sick-time toward their retirement and moves new hires out of traditional pensions – is government “at its worst” and could result in a mass exodus of current employees. In addition, the AG argues the legislation is invalid because it was signed by the speaker pro tempore, not the speaker – an argument which could apply to all legislation passed during the 2018 session.

Senate Bill 151 materialized just days before the legislature recessed for a 10-day gubernatorial veto period and passed both chambers in a matter of hours. Gov. Matt Bevin announced on 840 WHAS Tuesday that he had signed the bill.

"When teachers and law enforcement and the attorney general are all willing to file suit claiming a bill is unconstitutional, I think it says you've made a really bad step, you've done a wrong thing, and maybe when you come back here for the last two days maybe you ought to repeal it," Beshear argued. 

Responding, Bevin spokesperson Elizabeth Kuhn cast the attorney general's legal action as political in nature, adding that the attorney general is "scoring points" with the Kentucky Education Association, a leading organization in demonstrations against the overhaul. Kuhn said Beshear's course will "cause irreparable damage to public employees and taxpayers.”

Lawmakers return to Frankfort to weigh veto overrides and further legislation Friday. The session is scheduled to conclude on Saturday.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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