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Anti-Poverty Group Considers Lawsuit Over Kentucky Capitol Restrictions

Anti-poverty protesters were again told they could only enter into the Kentucky Capitol two at a time on Wednesday, after the state police commissioner previously restricted the group’s access to the building earlier in the week.

Leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign say they are considering filing a lawsuit over the Kentucky State Police policy, arguing that the state Constitution allows unfettered access to the Capitol.

Rev. William Barber, an activist from North Carolina and national leader of the group, said Gov. Matt Bevin should allow the protesters into the building.

“If we can’t come in, when you put your hand on that Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution, governor I hate to tell you but you told a lie. You’re not doing what you said you were going to do,” Barber said.

The Poor People’s Campaign has held a series of rallies in Frankfort in recent weeks calling for raising the minimum wage, pro-labor legislation, and protesting Bevin’s changes to the state’s Medicaid system.

Kentucky State Commissioner Rick Sanders imposed the two-at-a-time policy after members of the group spent the night in the Capitol on May 21 and wrote messages in chalk on the sidewalk outside of the Governor’s Mansion on May 29, according to a letter he sent to Democratic state representatives.

In the letter, Sanders said that the policy was enacted because the group “has advertised, planned, and trained to compel law enforcement to arrest them.”

Rep. George Brown, a Democrat from Lexington, said the policy unfairly discriminates against the Poor People’s Campaign.

“This is setting a precedent for eliminating people’s access to the people’s house and that cannot stand,” Brown said.

Pam McMichael, a co-chair of the Kentucky Poor People’s Campaign, said that the group was looking into whether to sue over the matter.

“Based upon Kentucky State Police Commissioner Sanders’ response, we believe the policy is clearly a prior restraint of the exercise of free speech, which is highly disfavored under our Kentucky Constitution and the laws interpreting it,” McMichael said during the rally on the Capitol steps Wednesday.

The Poor People’s Campaign was initially a 1968 effort launched by Martin Luther King Jr. to push for economic justice in the U.S.

Barber said the group is conducting similar demonstrations in 40 state capitols across the country.

“It’s the statehouse trying to take away your health care — now of course the Congress is trying to do it, too — but all those statehouses write voting laws, statehouses refuse living wages, statehouses determine gerrymandering, statehouses determine school funding. You see what I’m saying?” Barber said.

“That’s why if you’re going to have a poor people’s campaign we believe today in this dispensation you have to have it from the states and D.C.”

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