Opinion: Regulation restricting access to Capitol is invalid

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A new regulation by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's administration that restricts public access to Kentucky's Capitol complex was deemed invalid Thursday by the state's Democratic attorney general.

The advisory legal opinion from Attorney General Andy Beshear's office — which doesn't have the force of law — is the latest in a series of disputes between Beshear and Bevin. Bevin is running for re-election this year, and Beshear is among four Democrats who want to unseat him.

In the opinion, requested by a state lawmaker, Beshear said the Bevin administration failed to justify the need for the emergency regulation, which restricts access to the Capitol and other state-owned facilities and grounds. It was imposed days before Kentucky lawmakers returned in early January to begin this year's legislative session.

The state Finance and Administration Cabinet said the regulation's purpose was to protect "the health, safety and welfare" of visitors and staff at state facilities, Beshear's office noted.

"We find no 'imminent threat to public health, safety or welfare' that justifies" the emergency regulation, the AG's opinion said.

When this year's session opened, visitors to the Capitol and Capitol Annex were surprised to find more security checkpoints, including in an underground tunnel between the two buildings. Visitors had less freedom to roam the Capitol and its annex.

Bevin spokesman Woody Maglinger defended the regulation on Thursday, saying the Republican governor's administration "will continue to make responsible decisions regarding public facility access in order to protect the safety and well-being of state employees and the general public."

"This regulation was developed based upon guidance from experienced law enforcement and security experts, and we are confident that it complies with law," he said in a statement.

Last year, the Capitol complex drew thousands of people to protest a public pension measure supported by Bevin and the Republican-led legislature.

Also last year, members of the Poor People's Campaign were blocked from entering the Capitol after an outdoor rally. At the time, law enforcement officers cited a new policy that limited entry into the building.

Beshear's office issued an opinion last year that state police and the Finance and Administration Cabinet violated the law by limiting the protesters' access. The restrictions were then lifted until Bevin issued the emergency regulation last month.

By doing so the governor's office "deprived the public of the opportunity to comment on its new restrictions prior to the session commencing," the AG's opinion said.