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Judge Questions Ky. Legislature’s Speedy Passage Of New Pension Law

Ryland Barton

During a hearing on Thursday, the judge presiding over the lawsuit against Kentucky’s new pension law questioned why state lawmakers were able to pass the measure out of the legislature in just one day.

State law requires bills to be formally presented on three separate days before they are eligible to be voted on in the state House and Senate, though lawmakers frequently vote to override the rule.

Gov. Matt Bevin’s general counsel Steve Pitt argued the speedy process is necessary late in the legislative session.

“They have to be able to use the time-honored practices because things come up,” Pitt said after the hearing on Thursday.

“Consensus is reached and agreements are reached at the end of legislative sessions and there have to be vehicles to make those decisions and pass those laws.”

Republican leaders of the legislature passed the pension bill late during this year’s legislative session. The bill was initially presented during an unannounced committee hearing and passed out of both the House and Senate within a matter of hours.

The legislation was attached to an unrelated bill dealing with the governance of sewage districts.

Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear has sued to try and block the law from going into effect on July 1 — arguing that lawmakers didn’t follow proper procedures.

“Basically, in secret, excluding the public, they passed it the last day changing a sewer bill into a pension bill and ramming it through in one day,” Beshear said after the hearing on Thursday.

Republican leaders of the legislature argue that the most critical parts of the pension bill had already been publicly debated before its speedy passage.

Early in the year, Republicans advanced another version of the pension bill that stalled after intense opposition from state workers.

And the final version that passed into law had been stripped of one of its most controversial components — a reduction of retired teachers’ cost of living adjustments.

But during the hearing on Thursday, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd said that the lawsuit raises questions about whether the legislature is operating with an “open and transparent legislative process rather than one in which a few people decide what’s going to be in a bill and pass it in a matter of hours.”

“One of the reasons the court is concerned about these issues is there does appear to be a trend toward the legislature dealing with controversial issues in this fashion,” Shepherd said.

Bevin’s attorney Steve Pitt argued that the legislature has the power to set its own rules for passing laws and that the court stepping in would be an overreach of the court’s power.

Shepherd said he would rule on the lawsuit “as soon as possible.” The case is expected to be appealed directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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