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Judge strikes down pension law; state plans appeal to Illinois Supreme Court

By Bethany Krajelis | Nov 21, 2014

A Sangamon County judge has invalidated a 2013 law intended to fix the state's pension problems, a ruling the state's top lawyer says she will immediately appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. Circuit Judge John Belz, in a six-page order issued Friday, said pension reform legislation passed last year "is void in its entirety" because the law "without question diminishes and impairs the benefits of membership in the state retirement systems" in violation of the Illinois Constitution. Shortly after the ruling came down, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office issued a statement about its plan to appeal to the Supreme Court, which typically review rulings directly from the circuit courts when they strike down state laws as unconstitutional. Her office said, "We will ask the Court to expedite the appeal given the significant impact that a final decision in this case will have on the state’s fiscal condition.” The ruling set to see high court review stems from lawsuits brought by various state unions and union members over a law intended to overhaul the state's pension system, which has so much debt Illinois has been named the worst in the nation for its pension liability. The law was put on hold pending a court resolution. At the crux of the legal challenge is the state's pension protection clause, which says benefits of members in the state's pension systems can't be diminished or impaired. This clause was cited by the Illinois Supreme Court this past summer to strike down a law requiring state retirees to start paying for a portion of their health insurance costs. The court, in a 6-1 vote, said it is a “well settled principle” that pension rights should be liberally construed in favor of the rights of the pensioner.

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