Stricter Visitor Rules at the Capitol

Emma Taylor, Opinions Editor

Beginning in 2019, Governor Matt Bevin signed off on new emergency regulations in Kentucky’s Capitol building. These regulations prohibit crowds of people from forming in front of the third floor House and Senate chambers. In addition to this, anyone who does not have an official capitol pass may be restricted from using the tunnel that connects the Capitol and the Capitol annex. This is because public access to the tunnel makes it harder for state police to know who is in the building at any given time. These regulations were supposedly put in place because of safety hazards from overcrowding and violations of the building’s maximum capacity.

Despite all of these changes, protesters can still gather in the building’s rotunda and mezzanine areas. Even with public access limited in the tunnel, people will still be able to enter the capitol and annex areas.

The new restrictions at the Capitol has a large impact on the public. The tunnel is a common spot for people to confront lawmakers as they move around the Capitol. The third floor is also a common place for protesters to gather and make their voices heard. Many people feel that Governor Bevin signed off on the regulations to prevent people from protesting.

In the Spring of 2018, teachers from all over Kentucky traveled to Frankfort to protest budget cuts made to teachers’ pensions. When teachers sign their contract, they are promised a pension. With every pay check they receive, a small amount of money goes towards that pension. If this pension is lost or the benefits are reduced, the teachers lose that money. The Kentucky House and Senate both approved a pension reform bill which was hidden within a sewage services bill. When Governor Bevin signed it into law, teachers were outraged and responded with protests that shut down public schools. Fortunately, the pension bill was declared unconstitutional.

As a response to this, it is thought that Governor Bevin signed these new visitor restrictions in hopes to prevent more people from protesting at the Kentucky Capitol, not because there is a safety issue. This could be a violation of the first amendment, which gives us the freedom to peacefully assemble.

When asked how she felt about the new visitor restrictions, Lafayette freshman Pragya Upreti voiced, “Visitor restrictions aren’t to legitimately make the area safer. With the uncontrollable rhetoric of Matt Bevin, every government employee hates him. Obviously, they are going to protest his legislative ideas. The ‘visitor restrictions’ are just an effort to suppress their voices.”

But these new restrictions aren’t Governor Bevin’s first attempt on blocking people from entering the capitol. In the summer of 2018, the Poor People’s Campaign advocacy group faced limitations while attempting to enter the Capitol. The group tried entering several times over a course of weeks, and police informed them that only two people could enter at a time.

After the large protests last spring, teachers and others who oppose the pension bill stood against the walls of the tunnel connecting the Capitol and Capitol Annex. According to the president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, Brent McKim, the restrictions in the tunnel are understandable, but he believes there is enough room for people to walk through the tunnel, even with protesters lined up against the walls.