The Marijuana Policy Project claims in court that Alabama’s requirement that lobbyists appear for in-person training before they can speak to state lawmakers about potential bills is unconstitutional.
The group and legislative analyst Maggie Ellinger-Locke sued Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and members of the state ethics commission on Aug. 31 in Middle Alabama Federal Court.
The Marijuana Policy Project, or MPP, alleges Alabama’s requirements for lobbyists violate the First Amendment.
“Unlike other states, Alabama subjects its lobbyists to a unique – and uniquely burdensome – requirement: Within 90 days of registering, every new lobbyist must appear for an in-person training session that is held on only four specific days each year, and only in Montgomery,” the complaint states.
MPP says the state law makes it difficult for its Washington, D.C., lobbyists like Ellinger-Locke to “communicate freely” with Alabama lawmakers, because they must travel hundreds of miles for training before they can contact a state official.
“Just as Americans cannot be required to take a class before they may exercise their First Amendment right to march in a protest, or lecture from a soapbox, or write a letter to the editor, Americans cannot be required to take a class before they may speak to government officials,” the 16-page lawsuit states.
MPP and Ellinger-Locke seek a court declaration that Alabama’s lobbyist-training requirement is unconstitutional, as well as an injunction against the law. They are represented by David Schoen in Montgomery, Ala., and by attorneys from the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va.
The Alabama Attorney General’s office declined Wednesday to comment on the lawsuit.
Tom Albritton, executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, defended the law in question in an al.com report.
“I find it hard to believe…that anyone would challenge a requirement that special interests who are paid a lot of money to advocate for the passage or defeat of legislation before state government must go through a one-hour class on how to do their job without committing a crime or how to keep their actions from getting others in trouble,” said Albritton, who is not named as a defendant in MPP’s lawsuit.