January 7, 1997
Mary Alice Baish
Assistant Washington Affairs Representative
Georgetown University Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
Outlook for the 105th Congress
The 105th Congress convenes today, and as we noted in the last column, key information policy issues from the 104th will re-emerge: copyright in the digital age, database protection, and revisions to Title 44: the role of the Government Printing Office (GPO) and the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). While we can take heart in having slowed down unfavorable legislative initiatives in these areas during the past two years, the task begins anew. Many of the library community's "successes" result from improved cooperation and our taking a more proactive approach with legislators and policymakers. In addition, AALL has joined forces with broad-based coalitions, such as the Digital Future Coalition (DFC). These and other partnerships with organizations outside of the library community have been an asset and must continue to flourish and grow.
One of our first challenges regarding access to electronic government information and the FDLP will be to make these issues "sexy," since a balanced budget and campaign finance reform are the top priorities for the 105th. We hope that some of the changes in committee leadership will prove beneficial to our cause. Two New Yorkers, Rep. James Walsh from the Syracuse area and Rep. Jose Serrano from the Bronx, have taken over leadership of the House Appropriations Legislative Subcommittee that controls funding for the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office. It may prove to be a good mix as they represent both large rural and urban districts. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, a long-time library supporter with a keen understanding of the value of technology in bringing government information to his constituents, is the new chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. And we're especially pleased that Sen. John Warner (R-VA) not only will continue to chair the Senate Rules and Administration Committee but also is the new chairman of the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP).
Back in January 1995, at the unveiling of THOMAS at the Library of Congress, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Bill Thomas pledged that congressional information would soon routinely become available electronically for all citizens. While THOMAS has indeed developed into a valuable resource, attempts to improve access to congressional materials have not flourished. Last summer, Rep. Rick White (R-WA) failed to get House support that would mandate that a broad range of House committee documents be published electronically in a timely fashion. Taking a baby step approach, however, the House has just adopted new rules requiring committees to publish electronically "to the maximum extent feasible."
Loud protest from a broad and diverse group of organizations, including AALL and the other national library associations, succeeded in deferring action on the database protection treaty during the December meetings of the World Intellectual Property Organization (W.I.P.O.) in Geneva. However, we do expect that a bill similar to the database protection proposal (H.R. 3531) will be reintroduced in the 105th.
Although the other two treaties on copyright were approved--one dealing with literary and artistic works, and the other dealing with the rights of performers--the final versions reflect a better balance between copyright owners and users than what was first proposed. AALL joined members of the DFC and the coalition of library associations in drafting several letters opposing the database protection treaty, and asking that language permitting fair use and related education and library exemptions be included in any new copyright treaties. A December 23, 1996 joint library association news release expressed cautious optimism about the final outcome of the W.I.P.O. negotiations, along with a reminder that the treaties now face legislative approval. Documents relating to the W.I.P.O. conference are available at www.wipo.int/eng/diplconf/.
Revisions to Title 44
A full day of meetings between library representatives and key congressional staff on December 18, 1997 are noteworthy for several reasons. First, we learned that legislation revising laws on government publishing and the FDLP will probably not be introduced until spring or early summer. This gives us the necessary time to work on drafting a joint library association bill. We need to be proactive so that we can impact future legislation proposals to reflect the needs of libraries and users, and at the same time address the issues raised by the library community during last year's GPO Study.
Second, at a session with JCP former staff director Linda Kemp and the new staff director appointed by Sen. John Warner, George Cartegena, Ms. Kemp acknowledged that there were many "unintended consequences" to H.R. 4280, the bill introduced by Rep. Bill Thomas in late September. Both of them expressed support for GPO, as did other staffers with whom we met throughout the day. However, it is clear that Congress recognizes that GPO must evolve from being strictly a printing agency to becoming the public's "one-stop shopping" access point for electronic government information. We welcome Mr Cartegena to his new position. He is well aware of our issues, having participated in last year's GPO Study process, and he shares Senator Warner's strong support for the FDLP.
In preparation for these meetings, the following three documents were developed and endorsed by AALL, the American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries. They include:
- an issues statement on H.R. 4280, emphasizing the need for public hearings and dialogue among all parties;
a section-by-section analysis of H.R. 4280, highlighting the most threatening provisions;
- a list of recommendations that we believe must be included in any legislative revisions to Title 44.
The third piece of good news is that Rep. Bill Thomas has approved the proposal for a $200,000 joint study on the assessment of standards by GPO and the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. This approval had been very much in jeopardy, prompting us to send a letter to Rep. Thomas in late November urging his consent. One of the shortcomings of the GPO Study was the lack of data to support many of Congress's assumptions regarding the move to a more electronic FDLP. The standards assessment is a necessary next step in this process.
The Washington Office has recently responded to two state issues. On December 5th we sent a letter to the Illinois House Judiciary Criminal Law Committee to oppose SB 1036, a bill that would allow each county to define obscenity. If enacted, this legislation would result in 102 different interpretation of obscene activity and material, posing serious implications for interlibrary loan. It all came down to the wire yesterday, when the Illinois House rejected SB 1036 by eight votes. Congratulations to Bob Doyle, Executive Director of the Illinois Library Association, and CALL Public Affairs Committee Chair Barbara West for coordinating efforts to oppose this censorship bill.
Closer to home, we sent a Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post responding to a January 2, 1997 article applauding the new Maryland General Assembly website. The state of Maryland has long been a leader in providing citizen access to library and government resources through a local telephone connection. This new state legislative resource that includes information about bills and legislative proceedings is indeed welcome. However, the article failed to mention that this past fall, the Maryland Division of State Documents entered into a licensing agreement to produce electronic versions of the Code of Maryland Regulations and the Maryland Register in order to raise revenues. Along with other non-profits and members of the information industry, we were unable to convince them to instead provide access to these important titles through the Internet. Copies of the letter will be forwarded to the appropriate Maryland officials.
Visit the Washington Affairs Office home page to read the letters and documents mentioned above, and more!