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Beshear Says Protesters Were Illegally Restricted From Kentucky Capitol

Ryland Barton

Attorney General Andy Beshear says Kentucky State Police illegally restricted a poverty group’s access to the state Capitol building during a series of protests last month.

State troopers only allowed two members of the Poor People’s Campaign to enter the Capitol at a time after a series of recent protests, including a demonstration where 17 people spent the night in the building after business hours.

But a legal opinion published by the attorney general’s office said that Kentucky State Police and the Finance and Administration Cabinet didn’t create the policy using the proper procedure.

“Although we recognize that the KSP and the Finance Cabinet must have the flexibility and discretion to respond to imminent threats to the security and welfare of persons working or otherwise using state-owned buildings, this is not a case involving such an imminent threat that the promulgation of administrative regulations was impossible,” said the opinion written by Assistant Attorney General Laura Tipton.

The Poor People’s Campaign held a series of rallies in Frankfort in May and June, calling for raising the minimum wage, pro-labor legislation, and protesting Gov. Matt Bevin’s changes to the state’s Medicaid system.

Protesters were barred from entering the building as a group by state troopers during the last four protests.

A statement from Poor People’s Campaign Co-chairs Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis called the two-at-a-time policy a “clear violation of our constitutional rights.”

“These buildings are the people’s houses,” they said. “The laws passed in them affect everyone, especially the poor. Any political leaders who refuse to listen to the people they represent cannot pretend to defend democracy or the inalienable rights our history has always called us towards. We won’t be silent anymore.”

Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rick Sanders imposed the two-at-a-time policy after members of the group spent the night in the Capitol on May 21 and wrote messages in chalk on the sidewalk outside of the Governor’s Mansion on May 29, according to a letter he sent to Democratic state representatives.

In the letter, Sanders said that the policy was enacted because the group “has advertised, planned, and trained to compel law enforcement to arrest them.”

In the legal opinion issued on Monday, the attorney general’s office said that none of the rules that govern access to the Capitol have gone through the administrative regulation process, but that the Finance Cabinet has done so to create parking rules.

“Thus, it should come as no surprise that a regulation similarly is required for public access to and use of state-owned buildings and grounds,” the opinion stated.

In creating administrative regulations, agencies are required to explain their authority and reasoning behind creating new rules. A legislative committee also reviews proposed regulations in a public forum before they can be approved.

“In other words, the regulation process allows for what was entirely missing in the formulation of the unwritten policy at issue here — a chance for the people of Kentucky to participate in determining the rules related to entry into their seat of government,” the opinion stated.

Attorney general opinions don’t have the force of law, but they can be cited in court.

The Poor People’s campaign has threatened to sue over the policy, but hasn’t filed a court challenge.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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