“Kentucky Supreme Court: Determining the Constitutionality of GOP-crafted Pension Bill”
Blog Post | 107 KY. L. J. ONLINE | September 20, 2018
Summer R. Bablitz
Kentuckians watched Attorney General Andy Beshear and Governor Matt Bevin go
head-to-head in a series of challenges to SB 151, a pension bill passed by
Kentucky’s legislature and signed by Bevin.
began as an 11-page bill related to sewers but was stripped of all language
pertaining to sewers and replaced with a “massive 291-page overhaul of
Kentucky’s public pension systems.”
Beshear spoke on behalf of 200,000 public employees who were outraged about the
bill’s passage, including many of Kentucky’s teachers. Beginning in 2019, teachers hired would be
placed “in a hybrid cash-balance
plan, which is similar to a 401(k)” and would be required to work longer in
order to be eligible for retirement.
Shepherd ultimately found that the pension reform law violated Kentucky’s
Constitution because the General Assembly did not comply with the three-readings requirement and the majority-vote requirement
of Section 46.
that there needed to be an additional three readings after the sewer bill was
substituted for a pension bill.
Though SB 151 was read three times on three separate days, as Section 46
requires, the readings occurred when it was a bill pertaining to sewers.
The General Assembly passed the changed SB 151 even though no readings of the
bill occurred in the Senate and only one reading occurred in the House.
Shepherd afforded great weight to the intent of the drafters of Kentucky’s
Constitution and noted that they were “greatly
concerned with ‘the fraudulent substitution of bills’ that had so frequently
occurred in the past and hoped to prevent similar abuses in the future.”
Shepherd reasoned that SB 151 was a bill for the appropriation of money;
therefore, “the votes
of a majority of all the members elected to each House” was necessary for the
bill to pass.
SB 151 fell short and only received 49 votes, instead of the necessary 51
votes, in the House of Representatives.
Shepherd explained that the drafter’s purpose for such a requirement was to “prevent
the representatives of the people from putting their hands into the treasury
without proper authority and due reflection.”
Bevin maintained that there is no
requirement that the bill’s content be unchanged when it receives those three
In fact, he contended that the House’s own rules and customs support his belief
that a “committee substitute, when passed, becomes the original bill, and that
a bill only need receive the three readings at some point during the
Moreover, the Governor claimed that only a simple majority of votes was needed
to pass SB 151 because the bill does not authorize appropriations, as evidenced
by its lack of line items to fund the retirement system.
The Governor argued ruling SB 151 unconstitutional puts decades of passed bills
at risk of being invalidated.
After the pension
law was deemed unconstitutional, Bevin’s lawyers bypassed the state Court of
Appeals and were successful in getting the Supreme Court to review Shepherd’s
Republicans saw Judge Shepherd’s ruling as a loss
and this appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court gives the GOP an opportunity to
remedy that. All eyes are now on the Kentucky Supreme Court.
 Staff Editor, Kentucky Law
Journal, Volume 107; J.D. Candidate, The University of Kentucky College of
Law (2020); B.A., University of South Florida (2015).
 Verified Complaint for a
Declaration of Rights, a Temporary Injunction, and a Permanent Injunction at 3,
Commonwealth ex rel. Andy Beshear v. Matthew Bevin, No. 18-CI-00379 (Ky. Apr. 11, 2018).
 Jack Brammer, In Courtroom Packed with Teachers, Judge Says He Hopes to Rule Soon in
Pension Case, Lexington Herald Leader (June 7, 2018, 1:10
 Judge Says Pension Reform Law is Unconstitutional,
State Cannot Enforce SB 151, WKYT (June 20, 2018, 1:02 PM), https://www.wkyt.com/content/news/Judge-says-pension-reform-law-is-unconstitutional-state-cannot-enforce-SB-151-486049901.html.
 Opinion & Order at 19–20, Commonwealth ex rel. Andy Beshear v. Matthew Bevin, No. 18-CI-00379, (Ky. June 20, 2018).
 Id. at 20.
 Id. at 21.
 Id. at 23.
 Id. at 23.
 Id. at 25.
 Combined Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment and Response to Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment at 67, Commonwealth ex rel. Andy Beshear v. Matthew Bevin, No. 18-CI-00379 (Ky. May 23, 2018).
Arroyo, Gov. Bevin Files New
40-page Approach to Pension Lawsuit Battle with AG Beshear, WKYT
(June 14, 2018, 4:58 PM), https://www.wkyt.com/content/news/Gov-Bevin-files-new-40-page-approach-in-pension-lawsuit-battle-with-AG-Beshear-485609741.html.
 Jack Brammer, KY Supreme Court Moves Swiftly to Hear Pension Suit After Bevin’s Last-minute Appeal, Lexington Herald Leader (Aug. 10, 2018, 1:57 PM), https://www.kentucky.com/news/politics-government/article216447185.html.
 Lawrence Smith, GOP Lawmakers Say Court Ruling Puts Kentucky’s Pensions in Danger, WDRB (June 25, 2018, 5:30 PM), http://www.wdrb.com/story/38504552/gop-lawmakers-say-court-ruling-puts-kentuckys-pensions-in-danger.
* Featured image by Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0