ARCHIVED: Legislative and Regulatory Update - November 1996

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November 1996

Mary Alice Baish
Assistant Washington Affairs Representative
Georgetown University Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
202/662-9200 *FAX:202/662-9202

The 104th Congress adjourns today, and overall the scorecard is much better than might have been predicted a year ago. House efforts to eliminate the Government Printing Office (GPO) and to hastily move to an all-electronic Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) stalled. The year-long GPO Study reaffirms the principles of access to government information and provides a thoughtful framework for the future. We strongly opposed last year's passage of the Communications Decency Act, and its provisions were later ruled unconstitutional in a Philadelphia courtroom. The case now moves to the Supreme Court. Below is a brief wrap-up on other legislative action during the final weeks of the 104th.

House Revision of Title 44

The long-awaited House bill to revise Title 44 provisions regarding the GPO and the FDLP was introduced on September 28th by Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA). Thomas, who chaired both the Joint Committee on Printing and House Oversight during the 104th Congress, purposely introduced H.R. 4280 at the close of the session to allow a period of time for public comment. The bill was drafted by Linda Kemp, Staff Director of the Joint Committee on Printing. Ms. Kemp admits openly that it is not a perfect bill, but serves as a framework for House plans to develop a cybergovernment and to reduce costs, particularly for the legislative branch.

H.R. 4280 is intended to move GPO from a "printing" to a "publishing" agency (i.e, through electronic formats), but many of its provisions are problematic. It proposes a very broad definition of "government publication" (Sec. 501) that is intended to cover fugitive materials and those for which agencies are required to recover costs. Sec. 506 repeals the depository designation for land-grant colleges, federal agencies, the American Antiquarian Society, highest State appellate court libraries, and accredited law schools. According to Ms. Kemp, the repeal prevents the designation of new depositories in those categories but does not affect libraries already in the FDLP. Clarification of that intent is needed. Another key proposal ends the Legislative Branch funding for the publication and distribution of depository materials. Government entities would be required to bear the costs of all depository distribution and republication (Sec. 502).

Though the language of the bill is purposely broad, its lack of specifics in certain areas is troubling. In addition, there are few mechanisms for enforcement. GPO's proposed draft language for Chapter 19 contains far better definitions and some "teeth," (see the August 30th issue of Administrative Notes). We are grateful that the House has given us ample time to analyze the bill. The Depository Library Council meets in late October in Salt Lake City and clearly H.R. 4280 will be discussed there in depth. We will comment formally on both H.R. 4280 and the GPO's Chapter 19 proposed revisions jointly with the other library associations.

Senate Judiciary Hearing on Moving the Copyright Office

At the Senate Judiciary Committee's recent hearing on S. 1961, a bill introduced by Chairman Hatch this summer that would merge the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and the Copyright Office into a new "U.S. Intellectual Property Organization" (IPO), Register of Copyright Marybeth Peters quoted at length from our joint library association letter opposing the change. The new IPO would operate as a wholly-owned government corporation under the Department of Commerce. Current PTO Commissioner Bruce Lehman would become the new Commissioner of Intellectual Property; serving under him would be three Commissioners, one each for patents, trademarks and copyright. The three separate offices would each have to contribute one-third of the funding for the new IPO, necessitating increases in user fees. Ms. Peters estimated that copyright registration fees might have to be raised from the current $20 to as high as $100, a move that could drastically cut the number of registrants. The proposed legislation would adversely affect the Library of Congress' acquisitions since the Copyright Office is the means through which LC receives registration copies of both published and unpublished works. In light of very strong opposition by committee members Fred Thompson (R-TN) and Alan Simpson (R-WY), Senator Hatch backed down on the provisions regarding the Copyright Office. S. 1961 died with the close of the session.

International Copyright Agreements

We're also pleased that the 104th Congress failed to pass either the NII Digital Copyright Act (S. 1284, H.R. 2441) or the Database Protection Act (H.R. 3531). To counter administration efforts to bring these bills back next year as treaty documents, Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch sent a September 3rd letter to PTO Commissioner Bruce Lehman warning him that "the final language of such agreements may reflect decisions on those unresolved issues that may jeopardize Senate ratification of these agreements in the next Congress." This came as good news indeed, reflecting the diligent efforts of the Digital Future Coalition during the past year.

Electronic FOIA and Legislative Branch Appropriations Enacted

On October 2, 1996 President Clinton signed the Electronic Freedom of Information Act that extends FOIA to electronic records, stating that his Administration had broadened public access to government information and that the new legislation "not only affirms the importance, but also the challenge of maintaining openness in government." Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) had persevered for five in his efforts to get this legislation enacted (P.L. 104-231). Clinton also recently signed H.R. 3754, the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act of FY 1997 (P.L. 104-197).

TIIAP Funding Restored

Strong Congressional support by Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NEB) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) succeeded at the last-minute in restoring FY 1997 funding for the Telecommunications Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP). AALL was one of 76 organizations, including many grant recipients, who earlier had sent a joint letter to all members of the Senate supporting continued funding for the TIIAP grants.

AALL Response to Washington Post Op-ed

In a September 16, 1996 "Letter to the Editor," Bob Oakley responded to several blatant inaccuracies in an earlier Washington Post op-ed piece entitled "Congress on Microfiche." The comments strongly urge Congress to continue to fund the bound Congressional Record and U.S. Congressional Serial Set. This letter, and others written by the Washington Affairs Office on behalf of AALL, are available on our homepage.

California SB 1507 Passed!

Saving the best news for last, Governor Pete Wilson signed SB 1507 on September 26th, and NOCALL and SCALL members who drafted the bill and lobbied hard for its passage continue to rejoice. Chaptered at California Statutes 928, the new law provides public access to and preserves state legislative records and agency rulemaking files. Both the bill and the successful process of getting it enacted should serve as a model for other chapters. Congratulations!

1996, American Association of Law Libraries