Victory For Political Speech In Alabama

Rek LeCounte, Institute for Justice

Arlington, Va.—In a victory for free speech, the Alabama Ethics Commission agreed to eliminate its onerous in-person training requirement for private citizens who want to speak with state lawmakers. This comes in response to an August 2016 federal lawsuit filed by Maggie Ellinger-Locke and her employer, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ) and local counsel David Schoen.

Previously, any speaker who wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights to petition Alabama lawmakers and who fell within Alabama’s expansive definition of “lobbyist” would be required to physically attend an ethics class offered only four times a year—and only in Montgomery, Alabama. This presented a major hurdle for Maggie Ellinger-Locke, who works for MPP, a national nonprofit that seeks to reform state and federal marijuana policy. Maggie planned to spend only a few hours a year talking to Alabama lawmakers, and because she works out of Washington, D.C., she planned to contact them by phone. But under Alabama’s lobbying laws, those phone calls would have required Maggie to register as a full-blown lobbyist and travel nearly 800 miles, to Montgomery, to attend Alabama’s hour-long ethics class.

The Ethics Commission has now dropped that burdensome rule, agreeing that lobbyists can satisfy the training requirement online. Instead of physically traveling to Montgomery, they can simply live-stream the class. In the event of a conflict, lobbyists can schedule a personal online training with the Ethics Commission.

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