A national leader of the Poor People's Campaign told a group of anti-poverty protesters Wednesday that Kentucky's policy of limiting the group's access to the state Capitol must be challenged in court.
The Rev. William J. Barber, national co-chairman of the campaign, spoke outside the Capitol during his second trip to Frankfort this month to meet with protesters. He said a Kentucky State Police policy of allowing only two members of the group into the statehouse at a time is "an old tactic from civil rights days" and courts in his home state of North Carolina have ruled its Capitol Rotunda is a public place for protesters.
"We believe the same thing will happen here when it is tested under the law," said Barber. "If you let this stand, what is next?"
Pam McMichael, team coordinator for the Kentucky campaign, said the group is exploring "the appropriate legal steps to vindicate our group's right and those of all Kentuckians."
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State police recently implemented the two-at-a-time policy when several members of the Poor People's Campaign blocked traffic near the Capitol and entered restricted property around the Governor's Mansion, according to State Police Commissioner Richard W. Sanders. He said the policy would not apply to demonstrators who follow all laws and regulations.
Those regulations include obtaining a state permit to assemble inside the Capitol.
Barber said the Kentucky Constitution says nothing about needing a permit to gather inside the Capitol. He said that policy was "a smokescreen" that Gov. Matt Bevin's administration "has fed to the media."
He noted that the Bible says Noah allowed animals to enter his ark two-by-two before a great flood, but he let them all enter the boat.
Barber gave the protesters a Bible to present to Bevin.
Several members of the group took the Bible to the front door of the Capitol, but security guards told them they could only enter the building two at a time. A staffer said he would take the Bible to Bevin.
It marked the third time the protesters have been unable to enter the statehouse as a group.
House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, and Senate Majority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said the two-at-a-time policy is unfair.
They have joined the Poor People's Campaign in asking Attorney General Andy Beshear to issue a legal opinion about the constitutionality of the policy.
Jones, an attorney, said he sees no need for a group to get a permit to assemble inside the Capitol.
Adkins said he thinks the Bevin administration is "trying to set up a policy to keep people away from the Capitol and it started with the thousands of teachers who showed up at the Capitol this legislative session to protest Bevin'spush for a public pension bill."
Senate President President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, said rules and protocol must be in place for crowds at the Capitol.
Osborne noted that a House member needed emergency attention during the final days of the legislative session and it was difficult for emergency personnel to arrive because of heavy traffic in the Capitol.