Kentucky attorney general, union sues to block pension bill

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Accusing Republican lawmakers of "trickery," Kentucky's Democratic attorney general asked a judge on Wednesday to throw out a new law that makes changes to one of the country's worst-funded public pension systems.

Andy Beshear filed the lawsuit Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after Republican Gov. Matt Bevin signed the bill. Beshear was joined in the lawsuit by unions representing police officers and teachers, who have been marching by the thousands at the state Capitol to protest changes to their retirement plan.

"The pension bill is government at its worst. It violates the rights of tens of thousands of Kentuckians and it was passed without public comment, without any analysis about whether it would even work and without a chance for most legislators to even read it," Beshear said.

The new law protects most benefits for current and retired teachers and other public workers. It changes benefits for new hires by raising the retirement age to 65 instead of 60 and putting them into a hybrid plan that doesn't guarantee the same level of benefits as a traditional pension.

Beshear says the law is illegal because it stops current employees from using their sick days to count toward their retirement eligibility. He says this is a reduction of benefits and violates the "inviolable contract" that exists between the workers and the state government.

Hundreds of teachers called in sick the day after lawmakers passed the bill, causing more than two dozen school districts to close. The Kentucky Education Association, which joined Beshear's lawsuit, said protests will continue.

"We reasonably believe that teachers and other educational professionals will continue to protest the passage and possible implementation of (the law) by continuing to call in sick, which will result in continued understaffing or school closings," KEA President Stephanie Winkler said in a sworn affidavit attached to the lawsuit.

Beshear also says lawmakers broke the law in the way they passed the bill. Senate Bill 151 started out as a proposal to regulate the acquisition of sewage systems. On the 57th day of a 60-day legislative session, lawmakers gutted the 11-page bill and replaced it with a 291-page bill to overhaul the retirement system.

Because the bill had already passed the Senate and had the necessary readings in the House, lawmakers could quickly pass the bill in one day. The bill moved so quickly it was not available for public view until after lawmakers had voted on it.

Beshear says lawmakers can't do that, but it has been a common practice for decades. Lawmakers have done it at least twice this year. A few days after passing the pension bill, they gutted a bill about high school students pursuing military careers and replaced it with a bill to make it easier for local governments to make increased pension contributions.

Beshear also argues the law is invalid because the House speaker did not sign it. He argues the state constitution requires all bills to be signed by the chamber's "presiding officer," which Beshear says is the speaker. But the Speaker's office has been vacant since January when Rep. Jeff Hoover resigned after acknowledging he signed a secret sexual harassment agreement. House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne has been the acting speaker all session and has signed all bills that have passed.

A spokesman for Beshear said the attorney general is not trying to invalidate all laws the legislature passed this year, but is "only challenging the pension bill."

The lawsuit was filed against Bevin, legislative leaders and the boards of trustees for the retirement systems governing state workers and teachers. A spokesman for Bevin called it "a political lawsuit."

"The Attorney General has threatened litigation since the process began, proving that he cared less about the contents of pension reform and more about scoring political points with the (Kentucky Education Association)—a reliable source for family fundraising," said Elizabeth Kuhn, Bevin's communications director. "Rather than looking out for the best interest of Kentuckians, the Attorney General has chosen a political path, one that will cause irreparable damage to public employees and taxpayers."

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