Gov. Matt Bevin's attorneys are asking a Kentucky judge to rule on lingering legal questions surrounding a new public pension law before the case goes to the state's highest court.
The Republican governor's attorneys filed a motion Friday asking a Franklin County Circuit judge to amend his recent ruling that struck down the law. The key unresolved issue is whether the law violates the state's "inviolable contract" with teachers and other public workers.
Judge Phillip Shepherd cited procedural issues in striking down the law. He ruled that the GOP-led legislature violated the state Constitution in part because of the accelerated way the law was enacted. The judge said lawmakers did not give the bill three readings on separate days in each chamber, and the measure failed to be approved by at least 51 House members as required for measures that appropriate money.
Lawmakers changed the state's woefully underfunded public retirement systems in the waning days of this year's legislative session. The measure required new teacher hires be put into a hybrid pension system, and changed how current teachers could use sick days to calculate retirement benefits.
The pension overhaul became a flashpoint for protests at the state Capitol in Frankfort, part of a national wave of demonstrations by teachers. The largest Kentucky rally drew thousands of teachers and closed dozens of school districts as teachers also called for increased education spending.
In their new motion, Bevin's lawyers also asked whether parts of the measure — Senate Bill 151 — that don't violate the 51-vote requirement can be separated from the rest of the law and stand on their own.
A lower-court ruling on those unresolved issues would allow the state's highest court to decide the case "as a whole" rather dragging out the case "piece by piece," the motion said.
"By resolving these issues now, the court will ensure that the Kentucky Supreme Court can settle the constitutionality of Senate Bill 151 once and for all," the motion said. "Kentuckians need and deserve resolution through a single appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court."
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, who joined in challenging the pension law, did not immediately comment on the new motion. Beshear, a Democrat, called the judge's recent ruling a "win for open, honest government."
Bevin's general counsel, Steve Pitt, said the motion seeks a "clear up-or-down" ruling from the court on every legal issue surrounding the pension law.
"If the bill is invalid based only on legislative-process issues, then these issues could be easily resolved by the General Assembly in an upcoming session," Pitt said in a release from the governor's office.
"However, without a ruling from the court on the merits of SB151, uncertainty surrounding the constitutionality of the bill will remain."
The bill that became the pension measure started out as an attempt to fix problems caused by abandoned private sewer systems. Lawmakers gutted the bill and replaced it with the pension changes. Because the bill had technically already passed the Senate, lawmakers were able to send it to the governor's desk in about six hours instead of the minimum five days the state Constitution requires to pass new legislation.