What the pension ruling means for Kentucky teachers


Piper Hansen

This story will be updated.

The Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously struck down the controversial pension bill, Senate Bill 151 (SB 151), deeming its passage unconstitutional on Dec. 13.

In addition to “stripping the contents from a wastewater treatment bill and replacing them with 291 pages of text about pension reform,” the Kentucky General Assembly “failed to give the ‘three readings’ of the bill required by the Kentucky Constitution” and used a fallacious appeal to tradition to justify the bill’s passage, according to the Courier Journal.

SB 151 would have blocked new Kentucky teachers from accessing benefits of a traditional pension system, instead, placing them on a combination of a pension and a 401(k) plan that would have required workers, including police officers, teachers and other Kentucky public employees, to invest parts of their paycheck before taxes were taken out.

Kentucky’s Attorney General, Andy Beshear not only argued that the passage of the bill was unconstitutional but also mentioned that “it reduced the pension benefits of public workers in a manner that violated their inviolable contract with the state,” according to Insider Louisville.

Outside Dr. Randy Wieck’s (Social Studies) classroom are printed copies of news articles, editorials and legal documents regarding the Kentucky pension crisis. Photo by Piper Hansen.

Teachers around the state celebrated the decision, calling it a ruling that confirmed democratic process. The Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) wrote that “the ruling is a huge victory for democracy in our Commonwealth.”

The Courier Journal later reported that the JCTA President Brent McKim, said that the decision “ensures […] citizens have an opportunity to engage with their elected officials and let them know what they think about proposed legislation.”

However, because the decision was based on the passage of the bill and not its content, lawmakers could propose a bill with the same language in the upcoming 2019 session.

The Teacher Retirement Legal Fund (TRELF), run by members of JCTA, are “concerned about the [Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System] pension disaster”, including Manual’s Dr. Randy Wieck (Social Studies), who posted on Facebook yesterday that the decision was “a ruling merely on the method of passing ‘reforms,’ not the madness of pension theft, ongoing for many years.”

Kentucky’s Republican leadership, including Gov. Matt Bevin, criticized the decision and its consequences on “the separation of powers that lie at the heart of our system of government,” according to a statement released by the House GOP.

Bevin released a statement on Twitter following the decision calling it “an unprecedented power grab by activist judges,” and suggested that it will “force [Kentucky] to deal with further credit downgrades and increased borrowing costs.”

The chief operating officer of Greater Louisville Inc., an organization focused on growing the regional economy, stated that “now, Kentucky must act in 2019 to address the unsustainable costs of Kentucky’s public pension systems” after the press conference announcing the ruling.

Justices 6/8/2011” by KY Court of Justice on Flickr is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. No changes have been made to the original image. Use of this image does not indicate photographer endorsement of the article.