After more than a year of political and legal debate that prompted teachers and state workers to swarm the Kentucky Capitol in protest, the Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday morning on the state’s controversial new public pension law.
As Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear and Steve Pitt, the general counsel for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, argued the constitutionality of the law, the high court’s seven justices largely focused their questions on the legislative process that produced the bill.
Franklin Circuit Judge Philip Shephed ruled on June 20 that the legislature violated the Constitution by approving the bill without giving it the proper number of readings and not getting the support of a majority of all members in the House, which is required for bills that appropriate money.
The pension law was introduced and approved by the General Assembly in a matter of hours as a committee substitute. That means Senate Bill 151 was originally introduced and passed the Senate as a bill dealing with wastewater treatment regulations. It then got two of three required readings in the House before lawmakers scrapped the original 11-page bill and replaced it with a nearly 300-page pension law.
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The amended bill was then voted out of the House and approved by the Senate in about seven hours, giving lawmakers little time to read the bill and the public no time to organize protests.
Beshear argued that because the substance of the bill was changed entirely, lawmakers were legally obligated to give the committee substitute three additional readings on three separate days. Giving the law its public readings as a wastewater treatment bill but approving a version that has no relation to wastewater treatment violated provisions of the Kentucky Constitution that were designed to allow time for public input, Beshear said.
“It’s about notice,” he said.