House passes bill to make interrupting legislative proceedings a crime in Kentucky

Kentucky Lantern

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FRANKFORT — A GOP-backed bill that would make interrupting legislative proceedings a crime in Kentucky won House approval Monday. 

Members voted 62-31 on House Bill 626, which would add first and second degree offenses to state law. A handful of House Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill. 

While discussing his bill, Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, repeatedly referred to 19 protestors who were arrested and removed from the House gallery last year while House members debated overriding Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of Senate Bill 150. Now a law, that controversial anti-transgender legislation ended gender-affirming care for minors and included provisions like requiring local school boards to make policies keeping people from using bathrooms, locker rooms or showers that “are reserved for students of a different biological sex.” 

The protestors were charged with third degree criminal trespassing. The House overrode the veto despite the noise from the gallery. 

“Protesting is as American as apple pie. It’s part of the foundation of who we are, and I’m fully supportive of that,” Blanton said. “But when you prevent a legislative body from doing its work, then you cross the line.”

Among those who questioned Blanton on the floor, Rep. Daniel Grossberg, D-Louisville, asked Blanton about what happened to those protestors from last year. Blanton acknowledged that some of the cases were heading to trial. 

Grossberg said in response that it appears “the laws on the books are already sufficient” to achieve the bill’s purpose. 

“I find it a bit troubling that we are creating this new environment of more laws that are going to criminalize protest, especially when one of the provisions of the First Amendment of the Constitution is the right of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition government for a redress of grievances,” Grossberg said. 

In a statement after the House vote, the Kentucky Student Rights Coalition expressed support for the bill’s intention but raised concerns about the legislation’s current state. Now, the bill “does not pass constitutional scrutiny as commanded by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” 

“We, however, have two main concerns with the bill. The first is that the meaning of ‘disorderly’ or ‘disruptive conduct’ is not defined in this section. Left vague, it could possibly cause constitutional issues and especially applied legal challenges,” the organization said. “The second is that in section 2, subsection 1, the word ‘knowingly’ is not clearly applied to all the ways a person can violate the act. We would not want to capture unintentional behaviors with a class A misdemeanor or class D felony charge.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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