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Significant Court Ruling Protects Retiree Healthcare Benefits

7/03/2014

In what many commentators have said may signal a potential major pension victory ahead for IFT members and all public employees, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled today in Kanerva v. Weems that healthcare for retired state workers is a constitutionally protected pension benefit. The decision may have a significant impact on the ruling in the pending lawsuit against pension-slashing SB 1.

By a decisive vote of 6-1, the judges reversed a lower court's decision and found that the state does not have the right to impose health insurance premiums on retired workers because they are a protected pension benefit under the state constitution. The provision states that pension benefits "shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired."

This constitutional provision is also the focus of the lawsuit filed in January by the IFT and our We Are One coalition. Our suit challenges the constitutionality of SB 1, the bill that passed last year which drastically cuts pensions for public workers. (Read our full complaint here.)

Today’s opinion clearly defines the court’s interpretation of the pension benefits clause in the constitution:

“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.”

Judge Charles Freeman noted:

“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.”

On his Capitol Fax blog, reporter Rich Miller summed up his thoughts about the future of SB 1 as a result of today’s ruling:

“The new pension law sure appears dead to me.” 

We have always maintained that the constitution's language is clear and protects the hard-earned and promised retirement security of our members. We will continue to fight on your behalf and urge legislators to respect the constitution they are sworn to uphold and work with us to develop fair solutions to our state’s challenges.

Watch the IFT website and your inbox for more pension updates as they become available.


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