Teachers pack courtroom as governor's office, attorney general square off in pension law hearing

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - After Gov. Matt Bevin's attempt to remove Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd failed Wednesday, the hearing over Kentucky's new pension law started Thursday.

Shepherd heard arguments from the governor's legal team and Attorney General Andy Beshear during a lengthy hearing in front of a lively courtroom full of teachers.

Beshear would receive cheers from teachers while the governor's general counsel Steve Pitt would receive boos from the crowd, echoing similar sentiments when the law was still a bill in the Kentucky Legislature.

"You called it a Lazarus situation. This is like a 'Walking Dead' bill.You have to kill it twice," Beshear said.

While the attorney general is trying to prevent the law from going into effect, the governor's office maintains the pension changes are needed to ensure the system's viability.

"Teachers are not hurt. They are helped by this bill," Pitt said.

The law originated from an unrelated sewage bill in the legislature, and it was pushed into law with little notice. The method it was passed drew ire from many beneficiaries, as thousands of teachers would descend on the state Capitol to protest.

The Republican-backed law's supporters say the law takes a step toward fixing what some consider the worst-funded state pension system in the country. It will move new teacher hires into a hybrid plan that puts less risk on the state but doesn't guarantee them the same benefits.

"We are in a terrible problem in this state," Pitt says, "Nobody rebuts that argument that we are the worst funded pension system in the United States right now."

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear filed a lawsuit against shortly after Bevin signed pension reform into law, stating it violates the state constitution and was passed illegally.

"In the end, there's already an entire menu of reasons in which this judge can void the bill, and we're happy for him to choose one of those," Beshear says.

Pitt said the legislature has the authority to set its own procedures.

Shepherd said he hoped to rule on the case soon, but said it likely will ultimately be settled by the state Supreme Court.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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