Politics & Government

Kentucky’s pension law goes before high court next week. Here’s how to watch it live.

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This drone video shows the crowd outside the Capitol on Friday as teachers and others rallied for education funding.
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This drone video shows the crowd outside the Capitol on Friday as teachers and others rallied for education funding.

It likely won’t get the TV ratings of a Kentucky-Louisville basketball game, but many viewers across Kentucky are expected to tune in next week as the Kentucky Supreme Court considers the fate of the state’s controversial new public pension law.

At play is the future of retirement benefits for thousands of state and county workers and public school teachers.

For the second time in its history, Kentucky’s highest court is partnering with the Kentucky Educational Television network to provide a statewide televised broadcast of one of its hearings. The first occurred in 1989, when the court ruled that Kentucky’s education system was unconstitutional. That ruling led to the landmark Kentucky Education Reform Act the following year.

The hearing before seven court justices will begin at 10 a.m. Sept. 20 and will be broadcast live from the chamber of the Supreme Court on the second floor of the state Capitol in Frankfort.

There are several venues to watch the hearing, said Carl Babcock, KET’s director of productions.

It will be broadcast on KET’s KY Channel, KY KET, which is available throughout most of the state, Babcock said.

It also will be live streamed online at www.ket.org/legislature and at https://courts.ky.gov. Kentucky’s highest court has been live streaming oral arguments for several years.

“We will have three cameras in the court room with a RoboCam,” said Babcock.

Room 159 in the Capitol Annex will be set aside for media to watch the proceedings on TV, he added.

Supreme Court Chambers at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky, on Aug. 18, 2016. Pablo Alcala palcala@herald-leader.com

A replay of the hearing will be available afterward on KET’s website, for those who can’t watch it live at 10 a.m., said Babcock.

The Supreme Court is trying to present “a quality experience for our viewers,” said Kentucky Supreme Court Clerk Susan Clary, who arranged the broadcast.

The court’s chamber has only 140 seats for those who want to attend the hearing in person. The seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The doors to the chamber will open at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 20.

No signs will be allowed in the chamber and spectators are expected to be quiet and respectful.

The hearing is expected to last about an hour.

Arguing in favor of the law and the procedures the legislature used to pass it will be Steve Pitt, Gov. Matt Bevin’s general counsel. Attorney General Andy Beshear will argue against it. He is representing the Kentucky Education Association and the Kentucky State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police.

Both Bevin, a Republican, and Beshear, a Democrat, have said they will run for governor in 2019.

Attorney General Andy Beshear and Gov. Matt Bevin are locked in a court battle over a new state pension law. File photos

At the hearing, each side will get 20 minutes to present its arguments. Justices will interrupt them with their questions.

Both sides have filed legal briefs in the case, which can be found at courts.ky.gov.

The controversial law places teachers hired after Jan. 1, 2019, in a hybrid cash-balance plan, which is similar to a 401(k), rather than a traditional defined-benefits pension, and requires those teachers to work longer before becoming eligible for retirement.

It also caps the amount of accrued sick leave teachers may convert toward retirement to the amount accrued as of Dec. 31, 2019. State employees hired between 2003 and 2004 also are required to pay 1 percent more for health care.

The case is on appeal from Franklin Circuit Court. On June 20, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled that the legislature violated the Constitution in approving the law by not giving it the proper number of readings and not getting the support of a majority of all members in the House since it appropriated money.

Shepherd did not consider whether the law violates the state’s “inviolable contract” with teachers and other public workers.

Thousands of teachers and state workers marched on the state Capitol during the legislature’s handling of the measure, which was attached to a bill dealing with sewage in the final days of the legislative session.

Teachers are being encouraged not to miss school Sept. 20 to attend the hearing and instead watch it on TV or online, said KEA President Stephanie Winkler.

“We see this as a great learning opportunity in our schools,” said Winkler, who will attend the hearing in person.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling several weeks after the hearing. It is not known if that will occur before the Nov. 6 election. All 100 House seats and 19 of the 38 Senate seats are up for grabs this fall.

Attorney General Andy Beshear celebrates Judge Phillip Shepherd's ruling that the Republican pension law is unconstitutional. Governor Matt Bevin is expected to appeal the ruling.

Thousands of Kentucky teachers stormed the state Capitol April 2 to protest pension benefit cuts, oppose charter schools and advocate for better education funding.