Pension law overruled

Published 11:31 am Thursday, December 20, 2018

We are a nation of laws and, as citizens, we should always follow and respect those laws.

We might not always like the laws or court decisions, but we should always try to adhere to them.

This month, we learned that the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down a law that made changes to the state’s struggling public pension system.

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You may recall, in April, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin signed the bill that moved all new teacher hires into a hybrid pension plan. The bill also restricted how teachers used sick days to calculate their retirement benefits and changed how the state pays off its pension debt. We believe, and said so at the time, that it was a step in the right direction, since Kentucky has one of the worst-funded pension systems in the country. Previous administrations had simply kicked the can down the road on this issue, and we applauded Bevin for trying to address a serious problem that in previous years had not gotten the attention it deserved.

Before he signed this into law, thousands of teachers across the state descended on Frankfort to protest Bevin and his Republican colleagues for the changes to the pension system. Schools in more than 30 districts closed.

Those who marched should be happy now that the state’s high court struck down the law, but we don’t believe this is the end of the effort to try to put this out-of-control pension system into a healthier place.

One really has to look at what led up to taking the case to the high court and the court’s ruling to understand why we make that comment. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear filed suit challenging the law, arguing the legislature violated the state Constitution by not voting on the proposal three times over three separate days. Bevin argued lawmakers did not need to do that because they had substituted the bill for an unrelated one that already had the required number votes.

The Supreme Court ruled lawmakers cannot take a bill close to final passage and replace it with an unrelated bill without voting on it three times over three separate days as the Constitution requires.

We do believe the court got it right in its ruling, but the fix is simply a matter of voting on a new pension bill the required three times when it comes up again, which it almost certainly will in time.

We believe this is something to watch very closely, because 2019 is an election year for Bevin. It is also an odd-numbered year, which means the legislature is only in session for 30 days. One has to ask: Will Bevin and the Republican-controlled legislature bring this hot-button issue up again in a gubernatorial election year?

We don’t know, but we will anxiously be watching. One thing that Republicans have on their side is last month’s election. Democrats and teachers said they would knock out as many Republicans as possible in the election. That didn’t happen, as Republicans still hold a comfortable majority in the House and Senate.

If Republicans do try to revisit pension reform in 2019, they obviously need to do it the proper way and follow the court’s ruling. We will be watching to see if Republicans try to tackle this issue during a gubernatorial year, or if they play it safe and wait until 2020, hope that Bevin is re-elected and try to get it passed then.

Only time, and perhaps an election, will reveal that answer.

The Daily News of Bowling Green