Why States Should Adopt UELMA

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Why States Should Adopt UELMA

By Judy Janes

The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, also known as the Uniform Law Commission (ULC), approved the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA) in July 2011, recommending that it be enacted in all states. The act sets forth language, provisions, and parameters that require government publishers of primary legal materials in electronic format to authenticate, preserve, and provide permanent access to those resources. AALL President Darcy Kirk sent a letter to the ULC strongly supporting UELMA and encouraging states to adopt the act. Additionally, AALL Government Relations members and chapter leaders sent letters in support of UELMA to the ABA House of Delegates, who voted to adopt a resolution approving UELMA at the ABA Midyear Meeting in New Orleans on February 6. Law librarians, in partnership with key legislative representatives in many states, have taken a leadership role in working on enactment.

It all began when AALL Past President Sally Holterhoff held a summit on authentication in 2007 that inspired the act. Coupled with the leadership of many AALL members, the summit helped UELMA gain approval by the ULC in July. Barbara Bintliff, another AALL past president who served as the drafting committee reporter, and Keith Ann Stiverson, who served as AALL’s observer, also deserve particular recognition.

By February, five states had introduced UELMA legislation: California, Colorado, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

Other states are moving forward, as well, including Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Under UELMA, each state will decide which categories of “legal materials” to include in their legislation; however, the act encourages inclusion of the state’s constitution, session laws, codified laws, and administrative code. 

You might ask: why do we need legislation to guarantee that online legal information is publicly accessible for free, authenticated, and preserved when more and more information can be found on the web? As AALL’s 2007 State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources found, “a significant number of the state online legal resources are official but none are authenticated or afford ready authentication by standard methods.” Many state governments have moved to online publication of legal information as a cost savings measure, and, in some cases, print publications are being eliminated altogether. The online versions, in many instances, are the de facto official versions. And as more researchers rely on the web versions, it is critical that the online information is authentic and verified. 

Ensuring the authenticity of legal information online also facilitates widespread transparency in government actions and government accountability to its citizens. Unlike the printed word, online publishing must be protected against tampering or accidental alterations. While states have the flexibility to choose specific technologies to publish online, there must be assurances that systems meet certain standards for security and authenticity.

Without the promise of reliability and accuracy of the information, discreet researchers will be reluctant to make use of the digital information. Additionally, some courts may not accept citing to online authority, and scholarship publishers may hold authors to print citations. Lack of authentication minimizes the use of digitized versions of online materials.

Under UELMA, a state’s online legal materials are presumed to be accurate for use both in the state and in other states that have adopted the act. The act also insures that historical and derivative information is legitimate and traceable.

The ULC drafting committee for UELMA was well represented by members of several state legislative reference and legislative counsel offices. Many of these state offices already have statutory responsibility for making legislative materials available electronically. So, in passing UELMA, these members have affirmed the critical need for the additional requirement for authentication, preservation, and continuous public access of government-published online legal information. 

A white paper titled “Authentication of Primary Legal Materials and Pricing Options” was recently released, with law librarian Dragomir Cosanici, California Office of Legislative Counsel, as a primary contributor. The paper, which has been announced on several law library listservs, discusses the various methods of authenticating primary legal materials. It will certainly assist state representatives in evaluating the methodology and costs for authentication, which will necessarily be part of any proposed legislation.

AALL and AALL advocates in the states are partnering with ULC commissioners and supporters to investigate the economic climate and state legislative schedule in various states to plan for a possible introduction of legislation adopting UELMA and advocating for enactment. AALL has asked key law librarians in the first round of states to take a leadership role in this effort. In California, for example, a core group, including Michele Finerty, assistant director of technical services at McGeorge School of Law Library in Sacramento; David McFadden, senior reference librarian at Southwestern Law School Leigh H. Taylor Law Library in Los Angeles; Larry Meyer, law library director for San Bernardino County; and Judy Janes, director at UC Davis Mabie Law Library, will join with other law librarians throughout the state to advocate for the passage of California’s Senate Bill 1075.

California law librarians had a first-hand opportunity to discuss the UELMA bill at the All-California Institute March 9-10 in San Diego. Diane Boyer-Vine, California Office of Legislative Counsel, who was a member of the drafting committee for UELMA, was a featured program speaker. In addition to providing background information on UELMA and the work of the ULC’s drafting committee, she discussed SB 1075’s content and possible hurdles to its passage.

And what is happening in California is beginning to happen across the country. As law librarians become more involved in promoting UELMA, assisting with groundbreaking plans to identify sponsors and legislative authors, more states are introducing UELMA legislation. The ULC has a bill tracking page for UELMA that includes all current legislation. If you are interested in helping with this important effort, please contact Emily Feltren, AALL’s director of government relations, at efeltren@aall.org. There is no doubt that with the hard work and persistence of law librarians across the nation, the passage of UELMA legislation in many states is imminent.

Judy Janes (jcjanes@ucdavis.edu) is director at UC Davis Mabie Law Library. Special thanks to Emily Feltren for her contributions to this article.