Visitors in Kentucky’s Capitol this week found more security and less freedom to roam around the august building and its annex.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin on Jan. 4 signed an emergency regulation outlining procedures for the state Finance and Administration Cabinet to implement to “protect the health, safety and welfare of visiting members of the public, as well as staff” in the two buildings and other state facilities and grounds.
“Over the years, public interest in and attendance of, the regular business of the Kentucky Legislature has steadily increased to the extent that concerns have arisen regarding the healthy, safety and welfare of visiting members of the public and staff,” said Bevin’s statement. “With a regular session of the Kentucky Legislature imminent, the provision of this administrative regulation should be given immediate effect.”
The Capitol and its grounds were flooded last spring with protesters upset with a public pension bill backed by Bevin and the Republican-controlled House and Senate. The legislature approved the bill but the Kentucky Supreme Court last month declared it unconstitutional.
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Bevin’s move meant that Capitol visitors found more security checkpoints — especially in an underground tunnel between the Capitol and Capitol Annex — security officers, and areas where people can’t stand when the 2019 General Assembly convened Tuesday..
The Kentucky Democratic Party posted its opinion of the new rules on Facebook. It showed a photo of three uniformed state police troopers standing at the bottom of the steps that lead to the state House and two more in front of the House chamber’s main entrance.
“The people are once again shut out,” said the post. “Sudden ‘new rules’ restrict access to general public all over the Capitol but especially near the House of Representatives with no notice and no rules changes vote.”
House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said state police “came up with a new plan for the Capitol and it basically created areas that could not be blocked. It had to be used to allow access.”
Osborne noted that emergency medical technicians last year had problems getting to an ill state representative in the Capitol.
“That was a very, very bad situation where it resulted in him being in ICU for a couple of days because they just couldn’t get to him,” Osborne said.
There also is a new “House Gallery Rules” sign with rules for visitors going to the gallery to watch the House in action.
It warns visitors: “Keep conversations quiet. No cameras, video cameras, or cell phone cameras. No disruptive behavior including clapping or loud speaking. No signs. Turn off or silence cell phones while the House is in session.”
In smaller type at the bottom it says, “Thank you for showing respect to this institution. We appreciate your cooperation. Violators can be removed by security.”
House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said he is concerned about Bevin’s emergency regulation and called it “too stringent.”
“I don’t think we need further and more strict access into the Capitol,” he said.
Adkins, who is running for governor this year, said he especially was concerned about restricting access to the tunnel between the Capitol and Annex.
“I think it’s more about making it tough for the general public to come and be a part of the process,” he said.
Adkins said he could understand keeping some paths clear. “The ability to keep stairways clear might be acceptable based on how it’s enforced,” he said. “But this administrative regulation seems to go overboard.”
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said some legislators last year had “trouble” getting to their work areas because of the heavy crowd traffic, especially in the tunnel.
He said security personnel reviewed the areas and decided additional procedures were in order.
“The steps will stay clear. The walkways between the two chambers will stay open so documents can be communicated,” Stivers said. “People can still sit in the galleries but will have to leave after their business is done.”
Stivers said legislators “just want to protect every one.”
The regulation puts the Finance Cabinet in charge of safety procedures at the Capitol because the cabinet oversees state buildings, Stivers said. He said the emergency regulation is likely is to become an established regulation.
“We’re just trying to protect the people who work in the Capitol and the Annex,” said State Trooper Billy Gregory.
He declined to say how many officers are in place for security in the buildings.