After weeks of being denied access to the Kentucky Capitol, members of the Poor People's Campaign were allowed Tuesday to enter the statehouse together.
"Thank you, attorney general, yes," said an elated Tayna Fogle of Lexington, an official with the state advocacy group for the poor, who danced as she entered the Capitol with about 40 others under the watchful eye of Kentucky State Police.
The Bevin administration allowed the group to enter following an opinion earlier this month by Attorney General Andy Beshear that said the state had violated the law by allowing only two members of the Poor People's Campaign to enter the Capital at a time.
The opinion, which does not carry the force of law, said Kentucky State Police and the state Finance and Administration Cabinet failed to have a new procedure for limiting access vetted by the administrative regulation process, as they do for such subjects as parking illegally at the Capitol.
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The opinion was requested by Democratic state Reps. George A. Brown Jr. of Lexington and Attica Scott of Louisville. They were joined by 27 of their colleagues in the Kentucky General Assembly.
Kentucky State Police limited access to the protesters after some members of the group blocked traffic near the Capitol and entered restricted property at the nearby Governor's Mansion. The group said the requirement is unconstitutional because it only applies to them.
State police said groups must obtain a permit from the state to hold rallies in the Capitol but the Poor People's Campaign has declined to seek such a permit.
Pamela Trautner, a spokeswoman for the state Finance Cabinet, said Tuesday that the demonstrators were allowed in the Capitol en masse because the cabinet had "put a temporary stay on the permit process and allow demonstrators into the Capitol."
She did not elaborate.
Once in the Capitol, the demonstrators tried to enter Bevin's office, but it was blocked by a rope and two police officers.
The demonstrators gave a Bevin staffer several toothbrushes to remind him of his recent decision to cut dental and vision benefits for about 500,000 Kentuckians on Medicaid.
They then proceeded to the Capitol Annex to leave messages with legislative leaders.
Pam McMichael of Louisville, team coordinator for the state campaign, said the group has not yet been successful with an open records for the state's policies on access to the Capitol. She said the governor's office and state police have not answered all the group's questions and it might appeal to the attorney general's office.
The Rev. Don Gillett of Lexington, executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, said it was "about time the Capitol doors were opened" to the campaign.
But he said access to the Capitol "is not our main concern. It's helping people in poverty."
The Rev. Megan Huston with First Christian Church in Bowling Green said the campaign's efforts will not stop with access to the Capitol. She said it will be focusing on "mobilizing voters" in this fall's elections.
Kentucky is the only state in the country that has denied Poor People's Campaign participants access to their statehouse, said its leaders.