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Pension Reform Unconstitutional
By Leo Welch

Illinois' new "Pension Act" (Public Act 98-0599) passed by the legislature earlier this year and signed by Governor Quinn over the objections of public employee groups, retirees, and unions has been declared unconstitutional in its entirety by Sangamon County Circuit Judge John W. Belz in his ruling of November 21, 2014.

The Illinois Constitution states: "Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired."

Judge Belz's November 21st order calls this language "plain" and unambiguous" and asserts that the "legislature could not have been more clear that any attempt to diminish or impair pension rights is unconstitutional."

Additionally, Judge Belz ruled that the State of Illinois does not have a reserved sovereign or police power to diminish or impair pension benefits in case of economic emergency, contrary to the arguments presented by the Attorney General's Office. The Judge also made permanent the injunction previously entered prohibiting Illinois from enforcing or implementing any provisions of the new "Pension Act." An appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court is expected.