Politics & Government

Amid protests, attorney general says he won’t defend pension bill if it becomes law

Attorney General Andy Beshear said Friday that the state Senate would be breaking the law if it approves a controversial public pension bill and that he would not defend the measure in courts if it becomes law.

His remarks came before the Senate leaders decided not to vote on it Friday and sent it back to committee.

Beshear, a Democrat who is mentioned as a possible candidate for governor next year against Gov. Matt Bevin, briefly encouraged several hundred protesters in the Capitol against the pension bill and then told reporters, “If the Senate passes SB 1 today, they’ll be breaking the law.”

He added, “The General Assembly decades ago made a promise that if you dedicate your life to public service, if you spend decades teaching our children, protecting our families through law enforcement, protecting neglected children through being a social worker, that we will guarantee you a solid retirement.”

The Senate went into session shortly after 9 a.m. Friday but was in recess most of the morning. When it returned from lunch, Senate leaders sent the bill back to committee.

Beshear said earlier this week that the Senate’s new version of a bill to reform the state’s public pension systems remains unconstitutional.

The latest version of Senate Bill 1 “fails to cure any of the 21 violations identified in SB 1, including unlawful reductions in cost of living adjustments for teachers, caps on the use of sick time and alterations to retirement allowance calculations.” Beshear wrote in a six-page letter to legislators that he posted on social media.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, have said the proposal is legal and that changes in the revised version would improve its legal standing.

Kentucky’s public pension programs have an unfunded liability of more than $40 billion.

The opponents of SB 1 clapped heartily for Beshear and Senate and House Democrats who came to speak to them. They booed several Republican senators as they proceeded to the Senate.

Led in chants by Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler, the protesters warned lawmakers that they will remember them at the polls in November if they vote for Senate Bill 1.

“We’ll remember in November,” they chanted with other messages such as “Enough is enough,’ ‘We teach! We vote!” and “You vote now. We vote later.”

Many of the protesters carried signs. One read, “Thanks General Assembly. You Woke Up A Sleeping Giant.”

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics