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Local Groups Urge Providence City Council To Reject Lobbying Proposal Chilling Community Advocacy

Posted: September 18, 2014|Category: Free Speech

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A number of local non-profit organizations and community groups are urging the Providence City Council to reject amendments to the city’s lobbying ordinance that would require unpaid volunteers to register as lobbyists – and subject them to potentially severe penalties for violations – if they spend just ten hours a year engaged in broadly defined “lobbying” activities with the City. The proposal is scheduled to be introduced at the City Council’s meeting Thursday.

In a letter to the Council, eleven organizations – Direct Action for Rights and Equality, Providence Youth Student Movement, American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, UNITE HERE Local 217, American Friends Service Committee of Southeastern New England, Providence Community Library, Rhode Island Jobs With Justice, Youth In Action, Mount Hope Neighborhood Association, SEIU Local 32BJ and RI Coalition to Defend Human and Civil Rights – raised serious concerns over burdening many volunteers with onerous lobbying registration requirements and financial penalties for engaging in vaguely defined “lobbying” activities.

The letter stated: “It is difficult to think of a more effective way to discourage community activism. To hold a volunteer non-profit Board member to the same onerous standards as those for a multi-million dollar corporation seeking to sway City policy and obtain contracts worth millions of dollars borders on the unconscionable.”

The groups stated that the current ordinance is already overly broad and burdensome on small, non-profit agencies and has a chilling effect on community advocacy. The latest proposal reduces from 25 hours to 10 the time that volunteers can “lobby” in a year before being subject to the ordinance’s varied requirements. This change, argued the groups, “only further targets community activism as a problem to be reined in, rather than a vital force to help ensure that Providence’s most vulnerable residents are adequately represented in the making of City policy.”

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