ARCHIVED: Support of HB440

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November 10, 1999

Ohio's public and academic libraries, aided by the strong support and foresight of the state legislature, are the envy of the country. They are well financed and committed to providing the highest quality of access to information for every Ohio citizen. However, in the case of the state's law libraries, where access to information has potentially the most critical impact on the stability of our society and government, Ohio's record is abysmal. The libraries struggle to meet the legal information and research needs of the courts and practicing bar under a funding structure established in 1872 and last amended in 1959, resulting in wildly disparate resources and levels of service from county to county. Drastic fluctuations, in many cases drastic declines, in funding have made it impossible to address even basic needs, let alone participate in the vision of equal and full access to legal information resources for all of Ohio's citizens.

HB 440, the product of the Ohio State Bar Association Law Libraries Committee's decade long search for a solution to the funding situation, will put Ohio's county law libraries in the position to make that vision a reality. In 1992 the Committee sought, and obtained, OSBA support for a bill which would have brought immediate relief for the libraries. At the same time, other initiatives at work which were examining the criminal fine distribution scheme stalled OSBA's efforts to find a sponsor. In 1997 the OSBA Board of Governors reaffirmed its support of the proposal, as the first step in a two pronged approach to providing equality of access to legal information and research services to the bench, the bar and the citizens in the state of Ohio.

The proposal retains the structure of the current financing scheme for Ohio's county law libraries, updating the statutes so that they operate as originally intended. HB 440 will solidify the funding base for the county law libraries, so that they can prepare the infrastructure to form a statewide network of legal information management and resource sharing.

County law libraries in Ohio are financed by a series of statutes awarding the libraries a portion of state fines and penalties collected in each county. Several sections contain monetary caps, last amended in 1939 or 1959. To illustrate, the maximum amount payable to the largest urban law libraries under the capped sections is $17,450, and has been capped at that level since 1959. The present day dollar value of that amount is $110,425. The only uncapped sections involve granting the libraries a share of state traffic fines collected in the county. The intent to fund the law libraries from state traffic fines has been subverted by municipalities who cite under local rather than state law, or mayor's courts who contribute to the financing in varying degrees of compliance throughout the state. The intent is further corrupted by political choices far removed from the judicial system but which nevertheless impact the revenue to be allocated to the county law library. For example the recent decision of the State Highway Patrol to withdraw from active patrols in Cuyahoga County County resulted in an annual income loss of $100,000 to the county law library.

The bill seeks to remedy the situation through five steps: First, it updates statutes carrying monetary caps which had last been amended in 1939 and 1959 to current day dollar values. Second, it proposes caps for the previously uncapped sections for state traffic fines. Third, it addresses the issue of diversion from the statutory intent by including municipal traffic fines as well as state fines under the new caps. Fourth the bill specifically includes proceeds from fines for cases heard in mayor's courts. And fifth, the bill includes an inflation clause requiring an annual adjustment of the caps in the individual sections by the increase or decrease in the consumer price index.

When originally passed by OSBA, the proposal contained no caps for state traffic fines collected by the county courts under RC 3375.51 or traffic fines received by all courts under RC 3375.53. The OSBA Committee restudied the issue, and determined that carrying the logic of 3375.50 through to RC 3375.53, by adding caps based on population size for traffic fines would achieve a more equitable result for the libraries and the communities they serve. The caps proposed in HB 440 were based on a study of current law library receipts in counties of similar populations. The OSBA Committee believes that those recommended caps are a good faith effort to establish an upper limit that is both reasonable in terms of current financial needs of the libraries and the burdens placed on the contributing governmental entities.

In summary, these amendments to the law library funding statutes are essential to the immediate survival of the county law libraries, to provide them with stable and somewhat predictable funding, so that they can make the crucial technological and staffing improvements necessary to provide the highest quality of access and services to county government, the courts, the bar and the citizens of Ohio. Left intact is a critical safety net provision requiring the libraries to return excess revenue to the funding entities. It is our hope that these measures, taken within the existing statutory framework, will be the first step toward a long range planning solution adapting modern information technology to the legal research needs of all Ohio citizens.