Judge Shepherd strikes down new pension law as unconstitutional

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd | Photo by Joe Sonka

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled on Wednesday that the controversial public pension bill passed into law by the Kentucky General Assembly this year is unconstitutional and void, enjoining its enforcement by the state.

Shepherd’s order stated that the bill violated a requirement that all legislation be read three times on different days before officially approved by a vote of the General Assembly.

Additionally, he ruled that it violated a requirement that bills involving the appropriation of money or debt receive a majority vote of all members, as it only received 49 votes in the House.

Attorney General Andy Beshear, along with the unions of state police and teachers, filed the lawsuit against Senate Bill 151 in April, asserting that it contained up to 15 violations of the inviolable contract of workers and retirees in Kentucky’s pension systems, and was passed in a rushed manner that violated state law.

SB 151 was originally a bill dealing with sewage and wastewater, but at the very end of the session, Republicans replaced the language of that bill entirely to that of a pension reform measures that had previously stalled in the legislative session.

The bill — which switched new teacher hires from a defined benefit plan to a “hybrid” plan including a 401(k)-style benefit, in addition to other alterations of benefits for current state workers — passed by a narrow vote in each chamber.

Shepherd’s order did not rule on whether or not the bill violated the inviolable contract of workers, as it that was moot due to the improper manner in which the bill was passed.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Beshear hailed the ruling as a win for state employees and representative government.

“Today’s ruling holds the General Assembly violated Kentucky’s constitution when it turned an 11-page sewer bill into a 291-page pension bill, and passed it in just six hours with no public comment or participation,” said Beshear. “The public simply cannot be shut out of the legislative process.”

Gov. Matt Bevin did not immediately comment on the ruling.

The governor had previously attempted to remove Shepherd from the case, calling him a “partisan hack” that could not rule on the cause impartially.

Judge Shepherd’s full order can be read below:

Judge Shepherd ruling on pension bill by Insider Louisville on Scribd

This story will be updated.