Politics & Government

Police plan to limit number of teachers protesting inside Kentucky Capitol Friday

Teachers and others supporters fill the Capitol before budget votes in the House and Senate after a march from the Kentucky Education Association headquarters in Frankfort, Ky. on Monday, April 2, 2018.
Teachers and others supporters fill the Capitol before budget votes in the House and Senate after a march from the Kentucky Education Association headquarters in Frankfort, Ky. on Monday, April 2, 2018.

Thousands of teachers are expected to converge on Kentucky’s Capitol Friday, but they may have a hard time getting in the building. Kentucky State Police say they plan to limit the number of visitors allowed inside at any given time, citing safety concerns.

State police were working Thursday with the state fire marshal’s office to determine how many people should be allowed in the building at one time, and planned to announce that figure later Thursday, said spokesman Michael Webb.

On April 2, when thousands of teachers dressed in red descended upon the Capitol to protest surprise pension legislation, a red sea of teachers had to be parted to get from one end of the Capitol to the other.

Webb said the massive crowd caused state police concern.

“We don’t expect any trouble Friday but in this day and age it’s always good to err on the side of safety,” he said.

Webb said he had not heard of any complaints by the governor’s office or legislative leaders about the April 2 crowd. Shouts from protesters that day could be heard in the Senate and House even though the chambers’ heavy doors were closed.

“We’re just trying to be cautious,” he said.

A large crowd of Kentucky teachers and their supporters converged at the state Capitol Monday to make themselves heard on pension changes they oppose and education spending they want.

More than a dozen Kentucky school districts have already announced they will be closed Friday to let teachers lobby in Frankfort as lawmakers return to consider Gov. Matt Bevin’s vetoes of the two-year state budget and an accompanying tax overhaul bill.

Determining how many guests are in the Capitol at a given time will likely be difficult, since there are at least two ways to enter the building — through the main front doors and through a tunnel walkway from the Capitol Annex — and even more ways to exit.

Once the Capitol’s capacity is reached Friday, any overflow crowd will have to stay outside on the steps and sidewalks, Webb said.

The National Weather Service is predicting it will be 63 and sunny at 10 a.m. Friday, when the House and Senate resume their work.

Only people inside the Capitol will be allowed to use public restrooms in the building. Others may use restrooms in the nearby Capitol Education Center between the Governor’s Mansion and a parking lot.

Several longtime employees in the Capitol said Thursday they could not recall a time when the state imposed a capacity limit for the Capitol.

In October 2009, the state Division of Historic Properties, which oversees the Capitol, set capacity limits for the Capitol Rotunda and its second floor mezzanine.

It said maximum capacity for the Rotunda is 100 seated and 150 standing. Any overflow crowd can go to the second floor mezzanine, but no more than 300 total people can attend an event in the Rotunda and mezzanine. Events with more people can be held on the front steps of the Capitol.

Kentucky Education Association spokesman Charles Main said KEA has no rally or official program planned for Friday.

“This is a legislative action day, meaning it’s an opportunity for constituents to interact with their legislators,” he said. “All activities will occur at the Capitol, on the surrounding grounds and at the Capitol Annex.”

The KEA is urging lawmakers to override the governor’s vetoes of the budget and tax bills, since much of the money generated from the tax bill would be spent on education programs.

KEA is offering shuttle buses to transport protesters from designated parking areas to the Capitol. It is urging members to consider bringing a blanket to sit on outside and to wear a hat and sunscreen.

Private vehicle parking lots will be the Century Plaza lot (near Big Lots) or Capitol View Park on Glenns Creek Road. Shuttles to both parking areas will run from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Drone video shows Kentucky teachers and their supporters gathered at the Capitol in Frankfort Monday, April, 2, to protest pension changes and support education spending.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics