* The Illinois Supreme Court has posted its decision in Kanerva vs. Weems. Click here to read it.
The justices reversed the lower court’s decision to toss the case and remanded. Still reading.
* From the opinion…
it is clear that if something qualifies as a benefit of the enforceable contractual relationship resulting from membership in one of the State’s pension or retirement systems, it cannot be diminished or impaired. Thus, the question presented is whether a health insurance subsidy provided in retirement qualifies as a benefit of membership. […]
Giving the language of article XIII, section 5, its plain and ordinary meaning, all of these benefits, including subsidized health care, must be considered to be benefits of membership in a pension or retirement system of the State and, therefore, within that provision’s protections.
If they had intended to protect only core pension annuity benefits and to exclude the various other benefits state employees were and are entitled to receive as a result of membership in the State’s pensions systems, the drafters could have so specified. But they did not.
* More wow…
the drafters chose expansive language that goes beyond annuities and the terms of the Pension Code, defining the range of protected benefits broadly to encompass those attendant to membership in the State’s retirement systems. Then, as now, subsidized health care was one of those benefits. For us to hold that such benefits are not among the benefits of membership protected by the constitution would require us to construe article XIII, section 5, in a way that the plain language of the provision does not support. We may not rewrite the pension protection clause to include restrictions and limitations that the drafters did not express and the citizens of Illinois did not approve.
* Regarding the Con-Con debate…
Because we find that this issue can be decided based on the plain language of the provision, “the debates can have little or no bearing or effect” with respect to how we construe that language.
Even if reference to the convention debates were appropriate, it would not aid the State’s position. […]
In light of the constitutional debates, we have concluded that the provision was aimed at protecting the right to receive the promised retirement benefits, not the adequacy of the funding to pay for them.
Emphasis added for obvious reasons. The new pension law sure appears dead to me.
For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the State’s provision of health insurance premium subsidies for retirees is a benefit of membership in a pension or retirement system within the meaning of article XIII, section 5, of the Illinois Constitution, and the General Assembly was precluded from diminishing or impairing that benefit for those employees, annuitants, and survivors whose rights were governed by the version of section 10 of the Group Insurance Act that was in effect prior to the enactment of Public Act 97-695. Accordingly, the circuit court erred in dismissing plaintiffs’ claims that Public Act 97-695 is void and unenforceable under article XIII, section 5.
Our holding that plaintiffs are entitled to proceed on their pension protection clause claims obviates the need to address the sufficiency of their remaining claims. Because plaintiffs have obtained all the relief that they seek, any comment on their other claims would be advisory and in conflict with traditional principles of judicial restraint. See In re Alfred H.H., 233 Ill. 2d 345, 351 (2009) (recognizing that Illinois courts generally do not consider issues where the outcome will not be affected, regardless of how those issues are decided).
The judgment of the circuit court of Sangamon County is reversed, and the cause is remanded for further proceedings.
That sound you hear is the state’s bond rating collapsing.
* The final nail in pension reform’s coffin…
Finally, we point out again a fundamental principle noted at the outset of our discussion. Under settled Illinois law, where there is any question as to legislative intent and the clarity of the language of a pension statute, it must be liberally construed in favor of the rights of the pensioner. This rule of construction applies with equal force to our interpretation of the pension protection provisions set forth in article XIII, section 5. Accordingly, to the extent that there may be any remaining doubt regarding the meaning or effect of those provisions, we are obliged to resolve that doubt in favor of the members of the State’s public retirement systems.