Bill to give Kentucky AG new authority over protestors advances despite tearful pleas

Published 5:40 am Thursday, February 25, 2021

Kentucky’s attorney general would be authorized to file protest-related charges even if local prosecutors declined to do so, according to a bill advanced by a state House committee Wednesday.

The proposal follows a series of moves by GOP lawmakers to expand some of Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s authority in the state. Earlier this month, the state legislature handed Cameron the ability to regulate the state’s abortion clinics when they overrode a veto by Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat.

Other legislation curtailing the governor’s emergency COVID-19 restrictions requires the attorney general to sign off on the suspension of state law in an emergency. It is currently being debated in Kentucky’s Supreme Court.

House Bill 479, which was approved 11-5 by the House Judiciary Committee, includes a section focusing on specific charges that have been used against protesters, including some arrested this summer at Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s home.

“There is no intent to cause harm to anyone but to simply see that our laws that we put in our statutes in Kentucky are enforced,” said Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, the bill’s sponsor. TheĀ purpose of the bill is “not to stifle someone’s civil rights to peacefully protest.”

Ashanti Scott, the daughter of a Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, state Rep. Attica Scott, testified against the bill, recalling her arrest during demonstrations last summer.

Rep. Scott, her daughter, and other demonstrators were arrested by Louisville Metro Police in September as they were walking to a church that was providing refuge to protesters after curfew.

The protesters faced felony first-degree rioting, misdemeanor failure to disperse and misdemeanor unlawful assembly charges that were dismissed weeks later.

“I think that the county attorney made the correct decision in dropping these charges for myself and the others that were a part of our group,” Ashanti Scott said. “And I think it would be a bad thing to allow the attorney general to come in and bring these charges up again.”

Blanton rebuffed these concerns, insisting that the bill had “nothing to do with Rep. Scott.”

“I don’t think there’s any attorney general, present or in the future, that’s going back to the summer of 2020 and looking for reasons to prosecute,” he added.

Democratic Rep. McKenzie Cantrell shed tears when voting down the bill, calling the process “deeply disturbing” and “shameful.”

“If you want to give the attorney general more power, do it. But don’t throw one of our colleagues onto the bus on the way down,” she said.

The bill is likely to pass overwhelmingly in Kentucky’s legislature, where Republicans hold veto-proof supermajorities in the house and senate.