FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - The Poor People’s Campaign says they are looking to challenge in court a new policy that restricts the number of protesters inside the State Capitol.
The campaign has been holding events at nearly 40 state capitols around the country the last five weeks, including Frankfort to address housing, workers issues and public education, and has been limited to two protesters at a time inside the Capitol for the past two weeks.
Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, the national director of the Poor People’s Campaign, told reporters at a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday that Kentucky is the only state with such a restriction. “Even when Noah let the animals on the ark two-by-two, he kept letting them in, he didn’t make them wait until two others left.”
He said they are speaking with attorneys about possible legal action to declare the two-person-at-a-time policy unconstitutional.
“What we have here is an attempted robbery of basic democracy, so we have got to challenge it in court. The denial of entry into the building is a kind of segregation. That means this governor, in some ways, is using a tactic they used to use on black people,” he said, referring to the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s.
“We aren’t going anywhere,” Barber said. “We’re going to keep knocking, we’re going to keep coming, preachers are going to keep preaching, the lawyers are going to keep looking at the law and, after a while we’re not going to go in two-by-two, we’re going in all together.”
Barber also wondered if the order, enforced by Kentucky State Police and Facilities Security officers, also affects lobbyists, and NRA activists. He also noted teachers weren’t restricted during the pension protests during the 2018 General Assembly.
Two African-American members of the Kentucky House, Democrats Attica Scott of Louisville and George Brown of Lexington, have asked for an Attorney General’s opinion on whether the new regulation of limiting access by protesters is legal.
That request was joined on Wednesday by House Democratic Leadership. “The Capitol is the People’s House, so efforts to keep anyone from entering, especially during normal business hours, is something that should not be tolerated,” said Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, in announcing the action.
“House Democratic Caucus Chair Dennis Keene, House Democratic Whip Wilson Stone and I are proud to add our names to the letter that our legislative colleagues sent to Attorney General Andy Beshear last week because we believe an opinion from his office will show that this new restriction violates First Amendment rights,” Adkins said. “We need to return to the previous security measures, which provided the proper balance between safety and access. If changes are to be made, they at least need to be vetted publicly and not applied arbitrarily.”
Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, says he will also join his House counterparts in seeking an Attorney General’s opinion.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he can understand setting some kind of policy and knows some limitations were placed the last two days of the session. “We had some problems moving about, not because of anything intentional, just because of the volume of people, which could create some kind of safety hazard.”
House Speaker Pro Tem David Osbornes, R-Prospect agreed. “We had an emergency during the last couple of days of the session, and EMS could not get to the person, so we said something to security that we have to be able to provide access for emergency personnel.”
The example cited by Osborne involved Rep. Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville, having to be taken to the hospital.
Stivers added: “So it’s not some kind of insidious plot, as some people tried to portray.”