December 13, 2018

(December 13, 2018) This morning, the Kentucky Supreme Court  struck down the controversial "Pension Bill" (2018's SB151) with a 7-0 ruling, unanimously affirming Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd's ruling earlier this year. The bill was declared unconstitutional strictly on procedural grounds, and it spoke nothing to the policy itself. The procedural concern regards a Kentucky constitutional requirement that legislation be read on three separate days in each chamber before being acted upon by the full legislative body. Recall that SB151 began as an act relating to wastewater services prior to being amended with the pension provisions.

The issue is now back in the hands of the Kentucky General Assembly, which may choose to comply with the Court's procedures and enact the provisions of the bill during the upcoming regular session. They may potentially do so in a special session prior to the swearing in of new members on January 7, 2019, if called by the Governor. The General Assembly may also choose to take no further action on the bill at all. If the legislature does act, they must file and pass the next iteration of the pension bill over the required, five-legislative day minimum time frame.

The Court ruled that the state constitution requires a three-day reading in each chamber, and that the reading may be done by title only. Because the original version of SB151 was related to wastewater, substituting its contents with a pension matter was not germane to the title of the bill that had two subsequent readings. In other words, if the title had been germane, and read on each floor three times, the bill would have theoretically been considered constitutional. Going forward, bills can be amended as long as amendments are germane to the title, and the title is read three times in each chamber.

The Court did not rule on the policy and appropriations provision in the pension bill, because it was moot due to the fact that the bill was not constitutional under procedural purposes. If the legislature properly passes a subsequent version of the pension bill, the substance of the bill could still be challenged in court on policy grounds.

Supreme Court Opinion - Pension Case