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Kentucky Lawmakers Question Denial of Group Access to Capitol for Poor People's Campaign

Two Kentucky lawmakers have written a letter to Attorney General Andy Beshear requesting an opinion on why a group of peaceful demonstrators was denied access to the state Capitol on June 4. 

The request for an explanation is because about 400 demonstrators with the Poor People’s Campaign held an outdoor rally in Frankfort. Then a group from the anti-poverty movement  attempted to enter the state Capitol. The rally was led by the national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign Rev. Dr. William Barber. The demonstrators were met by uniformed guards at the Capitol entrance and told they could only enter under the “two-in-two-out” rule that was put into effect a couple of weeks ago. 

Rev. Megan Huston, pastor of First Christian Church in Bowling Green, led the group in prayer before they moved away from the entrance. There were no arrests.

Democratic legislators Attica Scott of Louisville, who represents the 41st District, and George Brown of Lexington, who represents the 77th District, wrote to the Attorney General stating that in their "...official capacity as state representatives of the Kentucky General Assembly” they’re questioning who made the two-in-two-out rule, since they had found out that no such regulation exists.

The lawmakers said the right to assemble is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and other large groups were granted access to the state Capitol this year. The legislators said a group doing a round-the-clock Bible reading was allowed to stay in the Rotunda and thousands of teachers and public workers have recently been in the Capitol.

The June 4 rally in Frankfort focused on health care. Among the issues of concern is Kentucky's new work requirements for Medicaid, the first in the nation approved by the Trump administration.

The "Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival" is a grassroots effort originally launched by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The movement has been re-ignited by Rev. Barber and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis.  The Poor People’s Campaign has been converging on statehouses nationwide as part of an effort to call for new programs to help Americans who live in poverty.

Barber said health care should be a human right and that it's "just mean" to take away access to health insurance. He pointed to predictions from Kentucky officials that once the work requirements take effect, about 95,000 residents of the state will lose Medicaid coverage over the next five years.

The rally at the state Capitol included residents from Bowling Green and members of several statewide groups, including Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has announced a partnership with the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky to help implement the Medicaid work requirements, which go into effect on July 1. The new rules will be implemented first in Campbell County, which is in the northern part of Kentucky near Cincinnati. The requirements will go into effect in Boone County on Aug. 1 and in Kenton County on Sept. 1. The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services said the remaining counties in northern Kentucky will have to meet the new rules beginning in October. 

Able-bodied adults between 19 and 64 will be required to work, be in job training or volunteer 80 hours per month in order to receive Medicaid benefits. Those with some medical conditions, primary caregivers and pregnant women will be exempt.  The other states that have gotten approval for work requirements for Medicaid recipients are Alabama and Indiana. Several other states have requested permission from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement similar requirements.  

Opponents of the new work requirements argue that many people who qualify for Medicaid are already working and the added bureaucracy and paperwork could cause thousands of residents who qualify for and deserve health insurance could lose coverage. 

Rhonda Miller joined WKU Public Radio in 2015. She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.
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