Thirteen local community organizations and agencies, including the RI ACLU, have today urged the Providence City Council to delay adoption of a lobbying registration ordinance that the groups claim will “chill and deter local advocacy efforts.” In a letter to City Council members, the groups raise concerns about the breadth of the ordinance – which defines lobbying as contact with any city official to influence a municipal decision – and the significant record-keeping burdens and fees it imposes on small community organizations who engage in any such activities. The letter also notes the potentially significant penalties that can be imposed for violations of any of the ordinance’s myriad requirements.

An earlier version of the ordinance was actually signed into law in March 2011 but placed on hold due to implementation concerns raised by some city officials. A new version, scheduled to be introduced to the full City Council tomorrow with the goal of taking effect next month, makes only minor changes. The letter sent by groups today largely mirrors concerns the ACLU raised about the ordinance last year.

Under the ordinance, any person deemed a “lobbyist” would need to register in advance with the City, obtain a photo ID and wear it any time while at City Hall or at other city offices, pay an annual registration fee of $25 (or $150 for larger organizations), and file quarterly lobbying reports with detailed information about any contacts made with any city officials for lobbying purposes during that period. These individuals would also face potentially stiff fines for violations of the ordinance. The ordinance applies to virtually any communication to just about any official of city government, including the Mayor, his staff, a City Council member, the police chief or the school superintendent. Under its broad definition of “lobbyist,” a large percentage of community groups in the City and their staff and volunteers could be subject to the requirements of this ordinance and its penalties.

Among the groups signing the letter in addition to the ACLU are the RI Commission for Human Rights, Olneyville Neighborhood Association, Providence Youth Student Movement, and Direct Action for Rights and Equality.