Whitesburg KY
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State’s high court did the right thing

Editorial

“Liberal.”

“Activist.”

The Supreme Court of Kentucky?

Nothing could be more ridiculous than calling an elected court in a state that voted overwhelmingly for the past three Republican presidential candidates “liberal” and “activist.”

It would be even more ludicrous if those statements were made by the governor and the majority leader of the state Senate.

Wait a minute — they were.

Rewind to last spring, when Governor Matt Bevin’s push for changes in the state pension plans reached a fever pitch, and teachers across the state hit the streets to oppose his plans to cut benefits they had been guaranteed when they were hired.

Unable to gain enough support to pass the bill even in his own party, the governor and his friends in the General Assembly pulled a last minute switch with a bill that had already been approved by the Senate and sent to the House. The title of that bill: “An act relating to the local provision of wastewater services.”

Three days before the end of the session, House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell and state Rep. John “Bam” Carney introduced the 291-page bill in committee as an amendment for the sewage bill, stripping out all provisions dealing with sewage and replacing them with the text of the pension bill. The bill had never been seen by the public or by Democrats, but it was promptly approved and sent to the full House. Within eight hours, both the House and the Senate had okayed it on largely party-line votes, and sent it to Bevin, who happily signed it.

But while Bevin was celebrating and telling pensioners they owed the legislators “a debt of gratitude,” Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat and a thorn in Bevin’s side, filed suit alleging that the way the bill was passed was unconstitutional.

Last week, the state Supreme Court agreed.

The seven justices on the court ruled unanimously on December 13 that the way the Republican-controlled state legislature passed the law violated the Kentucky Constitution because it did not have three public readings of the bill on three separate days.

The court did not address the contents of the bill, instead ruling only on the methods used to pass it. The unanimous decision says the reading process required by the Constitution is meant to “ensure that every legislator had a fair opportunity to fully consider each piece of legislation that would be brought to a vote. That purpose cannot be achieved by reading a bill only by its title which has no rational relationship to the subject of the law being enacted.”

Cue the outrage.

On his official Twitter feed, the governor released a statement calling the ruling “an unprecedented power grab by activist judges.”

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer followed up with his own Tweet saying, “This confirms what I’ve long thought: the KY Supreme Court is stacked with liberal activist judges who must be replaced.” He also threatened to “rein in” the Supreme Court of Kentucky with a bill that could change the way judges are elected, or cut the budget of the judicial branch.

Then, at 4 p.m. on Monday, Governor Bevin called a special legislative session to address the ruling for 8 p.m. the same night. Mercifully, the special session was adjourned at 8 p.m. Tuesday without passing a new pension bill. Acting GOP House Speaker David Osborne said the issues were too complicated to resolve in a fiveday session. With legislative sessions costing taxpayers an estimated $65,500 per day, this week’s stunt cost $131,000 with the regular session set to begin in just three weeks.

Could this matter really not have waited?

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