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Bill allowing Kentucky AG to file protest charges advances

February 25, 2021 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky (AP) — 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.

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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.”

Rep. Blanton, a Republican who sponsored the legislation, 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.

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Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.