Kentucky Politics Distilled: Pension Bill Struck Down

Jun 22, 2018

This week in Kentucky politics, a judge struck down Kentucky’s new pension law, saying legislators broke the law by rushing the bill to passage. Kentucky’s health secretary says the state will have to cut benefits if a federal court blocks Gov. Matt Bevin’s changes to the Medicaid system. And Democrats no longer make up a majority of registered voters in the state. 

This spring, the Republican leaders of the legislature were having trouble making changes to the retirement benefits of state workers. They wanted to do that because Kentucky’s pension systems are woefully underfunded. But teachers and other state workers swarmed the state capitol and their protests effectively stymied any legislation from getting passed. 

 

Then, near the end of the legislative session, a new version of the pension bill was unveiled and passed out of the legislature within a matter of hours. 
Here’s Whitesburg Democratic Rep. Angie Hatton on the day the bill passed. 
“I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t had an opportunity to read all of it. It’s a 291 page bill dropped on us today. It may be the best bill we ever passed. But given the way it was sneaked in with the sewage at the last minute, hidden from the light of day, I seriously doubt it.” 
The bill was passed by gutting a bill dealing with sewage that had already passed out of the Senate and then inserting pension language into it. 
Republican lawmakers voted to waive the requirement for bills to be presented on three separate days before they can be voted on. 
And that’s ultimately what Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd said was unconstitutional. 
Here’s Attorney General Andy Beshear this week. He sued to keep the bill from becoming law. 
“It’s my hope that this will create better government. An 11-page sewer bill should never turn into a 291-page pension bill and pass in six hours. That shouldn’t happen Legislation should always pass in a manner that’s transparent and that the public can participate with.” 
Shepherd also ruled that the bill didn’t receive enough votes to be sent to the governor’s desk. It only got 49 votes in the House of Representatives—a simple majority of members who voted, but the judge said that the bill would have needed what’s called a constitutional majority—51 votes. 
Gov. Bevin lashed out at Shepherd in an interview on CNBC Thursday morning.

“This judge who struck it down is frankly a terrible judge, he’s not a very competent attorney for that matter and he’s gotten elected because that’s how you get into this position. Because he’s a liberal Democrat representing a liberal district.” 
Bevin has indicated he’ll appeal the decision, which will likely be settled by the Kentucky Supreme Court. 
Also this week, the new secretary of Kentucky’s Health Cabinet Adam Meier said that the state will cut Medicaid benefits if a federal court rules against Bevin’s changes to the Medicaid system. 
“Probably right away dental and vision would be removed from the low income adult group, likely pharmacy as well. Because given our budget situation we had planned July 1st implementation for the budget and we would lose out on several months to a year depending on how fast it moves through the process.” 
Gov. Matt Bevin got permission from the Trump administration to require “able-bodied” Medicaid recipients to pay monthly premiums and prove that they are working, volunteering, a full-time student or trying to find work in order to keep their health coverage. 
Sixteen low-income Kentuckians are suing, saying the changes violate Congress’ original intent for the Medicaid program and a judge says he’ll have an initial ruling on the case within the next week. 
The changes are set to begin rolling out in Northern Kentucky starting July 1st. 
And in political news, this is the first week in modern Kentucky history that Democrats haven’t made up a majority of registered voters in the state. 
As of June 15, Democrats make up 49.9 percent of registered voters in Kentucky while Republicans make up 41 percent and the rest identify either with a third party or as independents. 
Al Cross, director of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, says that many registered Democrats in the state have been voting Republican for years. 
“As long as you were in a Democratic-dispositive county, it was not in your interest some people thought to change your registration. They wanted to continue to have an influence over the nomination of local officials. So they remained Democrats.” 
Even though Republicans have always had fewer registered voters in the state than Democrats, GOP politicians have held both of Kentucky’s seats in the U.S. Senate since 2001 and a majority of the state’s Congressional seats since 1995. 
That’s it for your distilled rundown of the news out of Frankfort this week.