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Hollis rap legend battles state over lobbying effort

The suit, filed in February in State Supreme Court in Albany, claims the state lobbying statute is unconstitutional because it does not provide a way for those charged with violations to appeal the decision, said James Featherstonhaugh, an attorney representing Simmons and the Action Network.

"The statute does not provide any means for you to challenge it," he said. "Normally you would have a hearing on whether or not you have violated it. Here you go and you are presumed guilty."

The Lobbying Commission declined to comment on the suit. The case has been adjourned until May, Featherstonhaugh said.

The commission had been investigating if Simmons and his Hip Hop Summit Action Network violated spending limits during their ultimately unsuccessful crusade to reform the state's mandatory minimum drug laws last spring. Simmons and Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, campaigned in Albany to repeal the 1973 Rockefeller drug laws, which mandate prison terms from 15 years to life for possession or sale of small amounts of drugs.

The unsuccessful effort included a marathon seven-hour closed door meeting with Gov. George Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer).

The Lobbying Commission was looking into whether Simmons and the Hip Hop Summit Action Network should have registered as lobbyists before hitting the Capitol. A person or organization must register if they are paid for their advocacy or if they spend more than $2,000 to promote their cause.

Simmons drew the attention if the Lobbying Commission after spending the better part of last spring meeting with politicians in Albany in his ardent effort to roll back the Rockefeller drug laws.

The commission also called a public rally held in Albany last spring by the Action Network a lobbying event, a claim Featherstonhaugh said violated the constitutional right to free speech and assembly.

"There was an underlying dispute of whether by holding a rally for lots of ordinary people to raise awareness on these drug laws whether that constitutes lobbying or exercising their right to free speech," he said.

Simmons, who grew up in Hollis, has been an outspoken opponent of the Rockefeller laws, and he contended in a statement that the commission's probe was a political attack.

"It is my personal belief that I and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network were attacked because of political motivations in an attempt to silence us and prevent us from continuing to address the real issue of the injustice of the Rockefeller drug laws," Simmons said. "We will not relent but will step up the pace of exposing the devastating effects of the Rockefeller drug laws on our communities."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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