Beshear says Bevin restrictions on access to Kentucky Capitol invalid

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Mock-up of Capitol doors, symbolizing the lock-out of the Poor People's Campaign. (photo by Berry Craig)

Gov. Matt Bevin administration’s new regulation restricting public access of the state Capitol and other public facilities is invalid, Attorney General Andy Beshear said in a legal opinion Thursday.

Beshear said the Bevin Finance Cabinet had the chance to propose the regulation through the normal process — with public input — last summer when the issue was first raised, after state police limited access to the Capitol for members of the Kentucky Poor People’s Campaign.

But instead, Beshear said, it suddenly imposed an “emergency regulation” late on Jan. 4 — just four days before the legislative session began.

The opinion says the move was invalid because an emergency regulation can be issued only in an emergency situation.

“We find no ‘imminent threat to public health, safety, or welfare’ that justifies” the regulation, Beshear said.

Visitors to the Capitol and Capitol Annex on the session’s opening day, Jan. 8, were surprised in finding the restrictions, which included limiting public access to the tunnel connecting the Capitol and Annex and to the third floor of the Capitol.

Beshear’s opinion also said parts of the law giving discretion to the Kentucky State Police to put limits on public meetings and requiring that visitors not remain in state facilities after normal business hours could lead to violations of Kentucky’s Open Meetings Law.

An opinion of the attorney general is only advisory and does not have the force of law. The spokeswoman for the Finance Cabinet did not immediately respond to a phone message and email Thursday seeking a response.

Conflict over the new regulation has eased since the session opened, as initial strict enforcement of the regulation has relaxed. And on Tuesday, Bevin sat down and talked in an open meeting with members of the Poor People’s Campaign who returned to the Capitol.

Beshear, a Democrat, is running for governor this year.

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Written by Tom Loftus. Cross-posted from the
Courier-Journal via the Kentucky Press News Service.