FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — More than a dozen protesters smiled and kissed the floor of the Kentucky Capitol after State Police officers let them enter the building Tuesday following weeks of protests.
"I was praising God and yes, I kissed the ground," said Tayna Fogle. "This is our house and we gained entry into our house."
Fogle is one of the leaders of the Kentucky chapter of the Poor People's Campaign, a reimagining of Rev. Martin Luther King's similarly named campaign of 1968. Across the country, activists are trying to highlight the problems faced by people who live in impoverished communities.
"There are over 140 million people living in poverty," Fogle said. "We are the richest country in the world. That is ridiculous."
Protesters have attempted to enter the Kentucky Capitol building for weeks. But State Police officers have denied them entry, citing a new policy only allowing two protesters inside the public building at the same time. Authorities said the new policy was prompted by a group of protesters who spent the night in the Capitol after refusing to leave.
Protesters were allowed inside Tuesday following a recent legal opinion from Attorney General Andy Beshear who said it was illegal to keep them out. But Pamela Trautner, spokeswoman for the Finance and Administration Cabinet, said the decision to let protesters inside had nothing to do with Beshear's opinion.
"The Finance Cabinet has temporarily put a stay on the permit process and demonstrators with the Poor People's Campaign were allowed in the Capitol today," she said.
Whatever the reason, protesters were delighted.
"We won. It's about time," Rev. Donald K. Gillett II, pastor of East Second Street Christian Church in Lexington, told supporters after entering the Capitol.
Protesters quickly made their way to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's office, where they were met by uniformed police officers who told them they could only enter if they had an appointment. A woman from Bevin's office did come greet them, and protesters handed her several packages of toothbrushes to protest the governor's recent decision to end dental and vision benefits for some of Kentucky's Medicaid recipients.
Kentucky had been ready to implement new rules for Medicaid that would have required some recipients to have a job or volunteer for community service to keep their coverage. But a federal judge blocked those rules from taking effect. Bevin said the ruling also eliminated the funding mechanism for vision and dental services.