Washington eBulletin – June 2021

COVID-19 STIMULUS BENEFITS NOW AVAILABLE TO ELIGIBLE LAW LIBRARIES 

On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package that contains several benefits for the legal information industry. This includes the following new programs:

  • The Institute of Museum and Library Services’ (IMLS) American Rescue Plan Grants, which will provide direct support to museums and libraries, including eligible law libraries, to address community needs created or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. More information is available on IMLS’ website. The deadline for submitting applications is June 28, 2021.
  • The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Emergency Connectivity Fund, which will provide funds to eligible schools and libraries, including public law libraries, to support the purchase of Wi-Fi hotspots, laptops, tablets, and other devices to loan to patrons. More information is available on the FCC’s website. The application is expected to open in June 2021.

U.S. territories, states, and local and tribal governments received $350 billion in funding through ARPA. Law libraries may benefit from some of these funds, through aid to small businesses and nonprofits and investments in education, government services, and broadband infrastructure.

ARPA also includes another round of stimulus checks for individuals and provided an additional $300 per week of enhanced unemployment benefits through September 6, 2021.

FUNDING FOR THE LEGAL INFORMATION INDUSTRY / FISCAL YEAR 2022

President Biden’s Budget of the U.S. Government for Fiscal Year 2022 (Budget) includes proposed budget increases for the legislative branch agencies that provide permanent public access to and preservation of essential government information, including the Library of Congress, the Law Library of Congress, and the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO). The Budget also includes increases to several grant programs that promote public access to legal information and support access to justice, including the IMLS and the Legal Services Corporation. AALL supports the President’s proposals to increase funding for these agencies.

In May 2021, AALL submitted testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee in support of funding for the Library of Congress, the Law Library of Congress, and the GPO. Funding for these agencies will support greater access to legal information, including the digitization of legal materials and preservation partnerships with law libraries. Funding for these agencies is especially important as their workload has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ADDITIONAL FEDERAL LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES

In addition to advocating for funding for the legal information industry, AALL has been advocating for additional legislative priorities, including the following issues:

BALANCED COPYRIGHT LAWS

In March 2021, AALL submitted comments to Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) on his draft legislation, the Digital Copyright Act of 2021 (DCA), which would update the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The proposed changes in the draft legislation amend the DMCA in ways that would significantly impact the ability of law libraries to provide equitable access to copyrighted materials. While AALL supports some of the changes in the DCA that promote access to legal information, we are concerned that other changes may limit the abilities of law libraries to provide access to copyrighted works and preserve these works. AALL continues to advocate for the needs of law libraries as Senator Tillis works on updates to the DMCA.

In April 2021, AALL submitted comments on the development of regulations affecting law libraries in the implementation of the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act. Under the new law, qualifying law libraries will be eligible to preemptively opt out of proceedings before the Copyright Claims Board, which was established to evaluate copyright infringement matters for small claims. We will share more information with members about how to opt out once it is available.

EQUITABLE ACCESS TO OFFICIAL LEGAL INFORMATION

AALL continues to advocate for legislation to modernize the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) to provide additional flexibility for law libraries to meet the government information needs of their users and their organizations.

In April 2021, the GPO selected AALL’s nominee, Allen R. Moye along with fellow AALL member Richard A. Leiter, to serve on the Depository Library Council (DLC). Leiter and Moye join AALL member Jennifer Bryan Morgan on the DLC. As members of the DLC, Moye, Leiter, and Morgan provide advice and recommendations to the GPO on improving policy and operational matters related to the FDLP.

UNIFORM ELECTRONIC LEGAL MATERIAL ACT

AALL continues to work with AALL chapters to advocate for the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act. In May 2021, AALL president Emily R. Florio discussed AALL’s support for UELMA on a free webinar hosted by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC). The webinar also featured AALL past president Barbara Bintliff, who served as the reporter for ULC’s UELMA Drafting Committee. Recently, the Southeastern Chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries (SEAALL) has been advocating for UELMA in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Law Librarians of New England (LLNE) has been advocating for UELMA in Massachusetts.

AALL’s UELMA resources page includes advocacy materials that can be used by law librarians and legal information professionals to support state advocacy efforts. Please email Janet Peros, chair of the AALL Government Relations Committee or Emily Feltren, AALL director of government relations if you would like more information.

SAVE THE DATE / VIRTUAL LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY TRAINING 

The AALL Virtual Legislative Advocacy Training will be held on Tuesday, September 21, 2021. The training is free for AALL members. Additional details will be available soon.

Washington eBulletin – January 2021

AALL Advocacy / 2020 Year In Review

2020 was a challenging and unpredictable year for all of us. As the COVID-19 pandemic changed our professional and personal lives, AALL focused on advocating for the immediate needs of the legal information industry. We are grateful to all the AALL members and partners who joined the Association’s advocacy efforts throughout the year, sharing stories about how your law libraries are adapting to serve your organizations. Below are a few highlights of AALL’s government relations issues and advocacy efforts in 2020:

SUPPORTING GREATER ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT INFORMATION

In March, AALL 2019-2020 President Michelle Cosby testified before the U.S. House of Representatives (House) Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee in support of the funding requests of the Library of Congress and the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO). AALL also advocated for funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Congress provided additional funds to IMLS and NARA to ensure continued public access to information during the pandemic. In April, AALL President Cosby provided suggestions for improvements to Regulations.gov during the General Services Administration’s virtual public meeting about public access to regulatory data.

The federal Judiciary launched a new website for the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system in June, incorporating some of AALL’s recommendations to modernize the website to provide improved access to court information. Legislation to make PACER free, including the Open Courts Records Act (H.R. 8235), passed the U.S. House but was not considered by the Senate. The Judicial Conference of the United States and Congressional leadership have expressed interest in continuing negotiations on a new PACER bill in the 117th Congress.

In addition, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts selected AALL member Theresa A. Reiss to serve on its new public user group to provide advice and feedback on ways to improve PACER and the Judiciary’s other electronic public access services. The GPO selected AALL’s nominee, Jennifer Bryan Morgan, to serve on the Depository Library Council (DLC). As a member of the DLC, Morgan provides advice and recommendations to the GPO and its new director, Hugh Halpern on improving policy and operational matters related to the Federal Depository Library Program.

In December, the Office of Management and Budget accepted AALL’s recommendation to include librarians at educational institutions, including academic law librarians, as eligible for fee exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act. The Administrative Conference of the United States accepted AALL’s recommendation that agencies include a “last updated” date when they publish federal court filings and court opinions on their websites.

AALL 2020-2021 President Emily R. Florio and AALL 2020-2021 Vice President Diane M. Rodriguez participated in the Legal Services Corporation’s podcast Talk Justice in December to discuss AALL’s support for access to justice and the role law libraries play in closing the justice gap.

PROMOTING A BALANCE IN COPYRIGHT LAWS

In August, AALL President Florio participated in the House Judiciary Committee’s listening session to discuss how law libraries have been impacted by Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

In October, the United States Patent and Trade Office cited AALL’s comments about copyright considerations in artificial intelligence (AI) in a report on AI and intellectual property policy. In November, AALL met with the new leader of the U.S. Copyright Office, Shira Perlmutter, and her staff to learn about Register Perlmutter’s priorities and share AALL’s perspective on the copyright needs of law librarians and legal information professionals.

AALL ADVOCACY RESOURCES

AALL provided advocacy training opportunities and additional advocacy resources for members throughout the year. In September, we held the AALL Virtual Legislative Advocacy Training featuring Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (CA-19). The AALL Government Relations Committee gathered voting resources, including information about registering to vote, finding your polling place, and requesting absentee and mail-in ballots.

AALL will continue to provide members with training and resources to advocate for the legal information profession in 2021. AALL has an upcoming advocacy training, Government Law Library Funding: Advocacy Training for Law Libraries.

AALL & THE 117TH CONGRESS 

The 117th United States Congress convened on January 3, 2021. Days later, the violent events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 shocked and outraged many of us. Congress is now focused on the security breach and potential actions in response to these events. AALL believes that equitable access to legal information is a core component of a healthy democracy.

Following the November elections and the January runoff election in Georgia, the Democrats will lead the House and U.S. Senate for the next two years. AALL is awaiting more information about the new Administration’s priorities before finalizing its new legislative priorities.

As the work of the new Congress continues, AALL continues to monitor legislation that impacts law libraries and the legal information profession. We will also continue to work with AALL chapters to advocate for the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act at the state level. We will keep you informed of any developments that may impact your law libraries.

COVID RELIEF PACKAGE / BENEFITS FOR THE LEGAL INFORMATION INDUSTRY

The $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed by President Trump on December 27, 2020 included several benefits for the legal information industry. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which is designed to help small businesses, received an additional $284 billion. Congress made several changes to the PPP that could help eligible entities, including solo and small law firms; nonprofits; independent contractors; and self-employed individuals. The changes include allowing PPP recipients to receive a second PPP loan; expanding the list of forgivable expenses; and clarifying that forgiven PPP loans will be tax deductible.

As part of the relief package, individuals received a second round of direct payments from the federal government. Those unemployed received additional benefits including $300 per week through March 14, 2021. In addition, unemployment benefits were extended to self-employed individuals and gig workers.

FY 2021 FEDERAL AGENCY FUNDING LEVELS SUPPORT GREATER ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT INFORMATION

President Trump signed a fiscal year (FY) 2021 funding bill for federal agencies on December 27, 2020. The federal agencies that support the legal information profession received funding, including:

  • $757 million for the Library of Congress, a $32 million increase over FY 2020. This includes funding to replace the Law Library of Congress’ deteriorating shelving units, which will ensure more timely public access to the Law Library’s collections;
  • $117 million for the U.S. Government Publishing Office, equal to FY 2020 levels. This includes funding to support the Federal Depository Library Program and govinfo.gov; and
  • $377 million for the National Archives and Records Administration, an $18 million increase over FY 2020. This includes funding to enable the processing, preservation, management, and storage of federal government records in print and electronic formats.

AALL has advocated for these agencies’ funding requests to support free public access to government information, such as bills and statutes, the United States Statutes at Large, and the Congressional Record. The funding also supports the agencies’ digitization and preservation efforts that provide access to information produced by the federal government.

The funding package also contained legislation that created the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2020 (CASE Act). The CASE Act creates a new Copyright Claims Board within the U.S. Copyright Office to evaluate copyright infringement matters for claims under $30,000. Importantly, the law includes the ability for libraries to opt out of proceedings before the Copyright Claims Board. The law requires the Copyright Office to establish the Copyright Claims Board within one year of the bill’s enactment. AALL will provide more information once opt out procedures have been developed by the U.S. Copyright Office.

ADVOCACY TRAINING / REGISTER NOW

GOVERNMENT LAW LIBRARY FUNDING: ADVOCACY TRAINING FOR LAW LIBRARIES

  • Thursday, February 11, 2021 / 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (CST)
  • Register Now
  • Free for members and nonmembers

Government law libraries are funded in a variety of ways: through local, state, or federal budgets, court fees and fines, subscriptions, or a combination of all of those. Many court systems are currently re-evaluating the impacts of court fees and fines on members of the public, and government budgets are facing significant cuts due to the pandemic. Now more than ever, government law librarians and their allies must effectively advocate for full funding of their libraries. This webinar will empower participants with successful advocacy strategies they can implement at their institutions. This training will be moderated by Jean L. Willis, assistant director for support services at the Sacramento County Public Law Library. Speakers include Miriam D. Childs, director at the Law Library of Louisiana and Suzanne B. Corriell, circuit librarian at the U.S. Court of Appeals Library for the Fourth Circuit.

 

Washington eBulletin – June 2020

Advocating for the Legal Information Industry during COVID-19

AALL’s most recent legislative priorities have centered on advocating for the immediate needs of the legal information industry during this pandemic.

The four federal relief and stimulus packages passed by Congress since March have included several benefits for the legal information industry, such as opportunities for law libraries to apply for federal grants and loans to address their immediate needs because of COVID-19. These include the Small Business Administration’s emergency loan programs to help small businesses– including solo and small law firms, nonprofits, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals–and new grants for libraries available through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Most recently, Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Flexibility Act of 2020 (H.R. 7010) to relax certain requirements of the PPP loan program, including extending the covered period to 24 weeks or December 31, 2020, whichever comes first.  

In addition to advocating for greater fiscal relief for the legal information industry, AALL’s legislative priorities include the following information policy issues:

A BALANCE IN COPYRIGHT LAWS THAT PROTECTS THE INTERESTS OF LAW LIBRARIES

AALL is advocating for the need of balanced copyright laws and policies that allow law libraries to access and preserve information, and to make information available to users. This balance is more important than ever as legal research, online instruction, and patron services have moved into a more virtual environment because of COVID-19.

AALL is carefully monitoring the Senate Judiciary Committee’s series of hearings about the effectiveness of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was enacted in 1998 to address the increasingly digital nature of copyrighted works. Earlier this month, AALL supported the testimony of AALL member David Hansen, associate university librarian for research, collections, and scholarly communications and lead copyright and information policy officer at Duke University, who described the impact of the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown system on libraries before the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property.

For more information about the benefits of the DMCA for law libraries, please see AALL’s issue brief about the exemptions in the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA.

GREATER ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT INFORMATION AND A MORE OPEN GOVERNMENT

AALL is advocating for the ongoing fiscal needs of the federal agencies that support access to and preservation of official, authentic government information. In March, AALL President Michelle Cosby testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch about the importance of funding for the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) and the Library of Congress. AALL also submitted statements to the Senate Appropriations Committee in support of the funding needs of the GPO, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives and Records Administration, describing how the workload for these agencies has increased because of COVID-19.Congress’ consideration of appropriations bills for the federal government’s fiscal year 2021 is expected to resume this summer. Fiscal year 2021 begins October 1, 2020.

In addition, AALL continues to advocate for modernization of the federal electronic rulemaking system, including Regulations.gov. In April, AALL President Cosby participated in the General Services Administration’s (GSA) virtual public meeting on Improving Public Access to Regulatory Data, during which she offered suggestions to improve Regulations.gov to support the legal information profession. The event was part of GSA’s efforts to modernize electronic rulemaking. AALL also submitted written comments to supplement President Cosby’s remarks.

AALL continues to advocate for net neutrality, which promotes equitable access to online legal information and access to justice. We are also monitoring the response to President Donald Trump’s new Executive Order 13925 on Preventing Online Censorship, signed on May 28, which raises free speech issues for online platforms and users under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act by increasing the government’s power to regulate online platforms, including social media websites and search engines.

PROTECTION OF PRIVACY FOR LIBRARY USERS

AALL is tracking the reauthorization of key parts of the federal surveillance program known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) under which the federal government can compel phone companies and internet service providers-including libraries-to turn over data that is relevant to an investigation. After the Senate passed the previously House-passed FISA bill and amendments (H.R. 6172) in May, the House had planned another vote to consider a bipartisan amendment to restrict the collection of internet search history. However, after a veto threat from President Trump and objections from the U.S. Department of Justice, House leadership pulled the bill and instead sent it to conference with the Senate to negotiate an agreement. Those negotiations are ongoing.

Roundup and Review  Save the Date: AALL Virtual Legislative Advocacy Training 

The rescheduled annual AALL Legislative Advocacy Training 2020 will take place virtually on Tuesday, September 22, 2020 at 11 a.m. (CDT). The training is free for AALL members; registration will open soon.

Becoming an effective advocate who can clearly articulate the needs of law libraries and the legal information industry is especially important during these uncertain times. This training will teach you the skills you need to establish yourself as a trusted voice in your community, promote equal access to justice, and contribute meaningful solutions to today’s information policy issues.

Washington eBulletin – January 2020

This is the first issue of the Washington eBulletin’s new biannual publication schedule. We hope you enjoy the new format.

2020 Advocacy Opportunities

Building long-lasting, trustworthy relationships is the key to effective advocacy. As the new year begins, AALL invites you to join our advocacy efforts to influence legal information policy issues. The Association’s current legislative priorities include improved access to justice, balanced copyright laws, increased access to government information, greater government transparency, and protection of privacy.

Thanks to your support in 2019, AALL helped to secure increased funding levels for the Library of Congress and Law Library of Congress; worked with members of Congress to ensure more oversight and accountability of PACER through reports and hearings; celebrated the enactment of legislation to modernize federal grant reporting and increase access to government data; saved the indexes to the Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations from eliminationand brought AALL member expertise to Capitol Hill as part of AALL 2019 Lobby Day.

The 2020 election year offers a special opportunity to form relationships with your members of Congress while they spend more time in their states and districts. Consider scheduling face-to-face meetings with your Representative and Senators and their district staff, or invite them to visit your law library. This is a great way to introduce them to your services and collections, and the perfect photo op for them and your library!

AALL’s new calendar of advocacy opportunities offers suggested advocacy activities for every month of 2020. Engaging your lawmakers throughout the year will help you form effective relationships with your members of Congress and is much more likely to lead toward favorable results for legal information policy issues. Be sure to join AALL’s Advocates Community to receive weekly updates from the AALL Government Relations Committee and timely action alerts when your voice is needed most.

Roundup and Review 

AALL submitted a response to the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Request for Comments on Intellectual Property Protection for Artificial Intelligence Innovation (84 F.R. 58141, Docket No. PTO-C-2019-0038). AALL supports consideration of a contract preemption provision to ensure libraries may continue to benefit from the exceptions provided in the Copyright Act.

The Association also sent recommendations to the National Archives and Records Administration to suggest ways to incorporate greater stakeholder participation to the federal records appraisal process. The letter includes examples of how greater access to certain categories of federal records–including those that might be deemed irrelevant and marked for destruction by a federal agency–may be valuable for legal research.

Washington eBulletin – December 2019

A Look Ahead

AALL Advocates for Legislative Priorities as First Session of 116th Congress Enters Final Weeks

AALL is advocating for several legislative priorities as the end of the first session of the 116th Congress quickly approaches, including urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to mark up the Electronic Court Records Reform Act, or ECRRA (H.R. 1164/S. 2064). The Southeastern Chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries (SEAALL) also sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in support of ECRRA.

AALL is preparing for possible action on copyright issues, following a commitment earlier this year by Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, to introduce legislation based on feedback gathered from a months-long working group established to discuss U.S. Copyright Office modernization. AALL has concerns about proposals to make the Copyright Office independent of the Library of Congress because we believe it would ultimately weaken the Copyright Office and erect barriers to an effective, balanced copyright system. We are also monitoring the expected introduction and debate of privacy legislation to determine any potential impact on the privacy of library users and confidentiality of library records.

Congress has until December 20 to negotiate fiscal year 2020 funding bills, giving the House and Senate several more weeks to determine top-line spending allocations. AALL continues to urge that any legislative branch appropriations agreement include as close to full funding as possible for the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) and the Library of Congress/Law Library of Congress, which would allow, among other priorities, the continued digitization of historical Congressional and other public domain materials.

Changes Coming to the Washington eBulletin 

Starting in January 2020, the Washington eBulletin will shift to a biannual publication schedule, with more regular government relations updates moving to the AALL eNewsletter and Weekly eNews. Chapter and SIS news, including news related to advocacy, may be submitted for publication in the AALL eNewsletter’s Community Corner. Submissions should be sent to Heather Haemker at hhaemker@aall.org.

Roundup and Review

  • AALL endorsed the nomination of Hugh Nathanial Halpern to lead the GPO and R. Crosby Kemper III to lead the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
  • AALL and the American Library Association raised concerns and suggested changes to proposed updates to GPO’s regional depository library discard policy, which would alter the conditions under which tangible titles may be discarded.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org Inc on December 2. This case addresses the question of whether the government edicts doctrine extends to works that lack the force of law, such as the annotations in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA), and therefore cannot be copyrighted. AALL signed on to an amicus brief with other national library associations in the case. The oral argument transcript is available from the Supreme Court’s website, and the audio recording of the oral argument will be available on December 6.

Washington eBulletin – November 2019

A Look Ahead

Congress Debates Bills To Improve Access to Government Data and Information

With just a few weeks until the end of the first session of the 116th Congress, lawmakers and their staffs are working quickly on must-pass legislation–including funding proposals to keep the federal government open past Thanksgiving. Beyond the must-pass items, the House and Senate are also busy considering legislation on improving access to grant data and expanding freedom of information.

On October 21, the Senate voted unanimously in favor of the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act (H.R. 150). The GREAT Act would modernize federal grant reporting and increase transparency by establishing searchable and machine-readable data standards for the information grantees must report to agencies. The bill would ease research on federal grant reporting by transforming disconnected documents into open data, as well as support greater oversight and accountability of the grant-making process. The GREAT Act passed the House of Representatives 422-0 in January. The bill will now return to the House for a vote on the changes made in the Senate.

AALL is urging Senators to support the Open and Responsive Government Act (S. 2220), which strengthens the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by ensuring continued access to information that has regularly been disclosed through FOIA but is now at risk of being hidden from public view. AALL’s new one-pager explains how the bill protects against efforts to weaken FOIA following a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media that expanded the scope of what is considered “confidential” information. The bill will prevent agencies from unnecessarily redacting information and reinforces FOIA’s presumption of openness and transparency.

Changes Coming to the Washington eBulletin 

Starting in January 2020, the Washington eBulletin will shift to a biannual publication schedule, with more regular government relations updates moving to the AALL eNewsletter and Weekly eNews. Chapter and SIS news, including news related to advocacy, may be submitted for publication in the AALL eNewsletter’s Community Corner. Submissions should be sent to Heather Haemker at hhaemker@aall.org.

Roundup and Review

  • AALL sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the Electronic Court Records Reform Act (S. 2064) to modernize and provide free access to the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. The letter urges Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to support bringing the bill to the Senate floor as soon as possible.
  • The White House nominated Hugh Nathanial Halpern to be director of the Government Publishing Office. Mr. Halpern previously served as the director of floor operations in the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives before retiring in January 2019. AALL looks forward to learning more about the nominee.

Washington eBulletin – October 2019

A Look Ahead

Congress Considers Legislation to Improve Access to Legal Information 

Members of Congress returned to their states and districts for a two-week recess after a particularly busy three weeks in session. Before lawmakers left Washington, the House and Senate passed a continuing resolution (H.R. 4378) to fund the federal government through November 21, avoiding a government shutdown that would have occurred on September 30. The Senate also passed several fiscal year (FY) 2020 appropriations bills, including a legislative branch appropriations bill (S. 2581) to fund the Government Publishing Office at its requested level of $117 million and the Library of Congress at $735.8 million, $39.7 million above the FY 2019 enacted level.

Just before the Congressional break, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Courts held a hearing titled, “The Federal Judiciary in the 21st Century: Ensuring the Public’s Right of Access to the Courts.” The hearing focused on sealed court filings, audio and visual access to court proceedings, and the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. The Judicial Conference of the United States was represented by Audrey Fleissig, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Missouri and chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, and Judge Richard Story, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Georgia and a member of the Judicial Conference’s Committee on the Judicial Branch.

In her testimony, Judge Fleissig raised concerns about proposed legislative changes to PACER’s fee structure. She stated that while the Judiciary is committed to openness and public access, proposed legislation would place an unfair burden on litigants by exponentially increasing filing fees to support the case management and public access systems which cost more than $100 million to operate.

Seamus Hughes, Deputy Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University and author of a recent piece in Politico Magazine titled “The Federal Courts Are Running An Online Scam,” testified about problems with PACER, including usability barriers for research and journalism. Hughes offered examples that illustrated both the day-to-day frustrations of users and the broader policy and technical issues that hamper the system and offered solutions including making PACER free, setting a uniform system for documents filed in the system, and requiring documents be text-searchable.

AALL appreciates the Judiciary’s recent actions to establish an Electronic Public Access Public User Group and increase the quarterly fee waiver for PACER users from $15.00 to $30.00. We also believe that more needs to be done to increase access to court records because PACER has not kept up with its promise to provide the public with affordable electronic access to court information. Today, PACER is cumbersome, inefficient, and outdated. The system erects barriers to equitable access to information and inhibits access to justice. AALL submitted a statement for the record expressing the Association’s support for the Electronic Court Records Reform Act (H.R. 1164/S. 2064) that would modernize and provide free access to PACER.

AALL is also tracking several other bills related to access to legal and government information, including the Open and Responsive Government Act of 2019 (S. 2220) to improve the Freedom of Information Act; the OLC Sunlight Act to provide greater access to Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinions; the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (H.R. 736/S. 195) to direct the Government Publishing Office to make reports available for public access and bulk download; and the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency Act of 2019 (H.R. 150/S. 1829) to require the use of open data and increase transparency of federal grant recipient reporting. The latter two bills have already passed the House and await action in the Senate.

1. Some members of Congress and technology experts have questioned PACER’s operating costs given the average costs associated with modern data storage and record retrieval systems. One recent estimate calculated the total yearly expenses for storing and serving PACER’s data at just over $200,000. Issues related to the costs of PACER and CM/ECF are being considered in National Veterans Legal Services Program et al v. United States of America, in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is considering whether the government is violating the E-Government Act of 2002 by charging fees to access court documents that exceed the marginal cost of providing documents on PACER.

AALL in the States

UELMA Updates

On September 17, Law Librarians of New England (LLNE) Immediate Past President Catherine Biondo testified in support of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA) in Massachusetts before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Read more on the LLNE Blog.

In addition, AALL President Michelle Cosby sent a letter to the Uniform Law Commission reiterating the Association’s support for UELMA.

Roundup and Review

On October 1, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld in part the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Restoring Internet Freedom Order that repealed the net neutrality protections under the 2015 Open Internet Order in the case Mozilla v. FCC. The court also ruled that the FCC cannot prevent states from enacting their own net neutrality laws or other broadband regulations. The decision underscores the need for the Senate to pass the Save the Internet Act (S. 682), which enacts critical net neutrality protections. The Save the Internet Act would ensure law libraries can continue to meet their crucial missions to provide users with equitable access to up-to-date online legal information.

Washington eBulletin – September 2019

A Look Ahead

Congress Must Pass Agency Funding Bill or Risk Government Shutdown

Members of Congress return to Washington next week with a full agenda, including completing the 12 appropriations bills before the start of the new fiscal year. If the bills aren’t finished before the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, the federal government will once again shut down.

The House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2020 legislative branch appropriations bill in May. The bill provides the Government Publishing Office (GPO) with the requested $117 million, which will support the Federal Depository Library Program and the continued development of govinfo. The Library of Congress received $720 million, an increase of $24 million, including the Copyright Office, Congressional Research Service, Law Library of Congress, and National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. In its Committee report, the House Appropriations Committee urged the Law Library “to continue its digitization strategy as party of the Library’s overall digitization strategy to increase online access to major parts of its collection, such as the U.S. Serial Sets [sic] and Supreme Court Records and Briefs.”

The Law Library of Congress’ projects to digitize public domain U.S. legal and legislative materials would be of significant benefit to law libraries, which will be able to provide free access to these collections through the Law Library’s website once digitization is complete. In addition, GPO is contributing to building a corpus of digitized historical material, most recently completing the digitization of the Federal Register back to 1936 and the bound Congressional Record back to 1873.

Despite the White House’s repeated calls to shutter the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the House has approved significant increases in funding for these agencies. In June, the House approved $267 million for IMLS in a four-bill appropriations package (H.R.2740), an increase of $25 million above the 2019 enacted level. The House also passed $550 million for the LSC in a separate appropriations package (H.R. 3055), an increase of $135 million above fiscal year 2019, to help increase the availability of legal assistance in underserved communities.

The Senate has not yet scheduled any appropriations bill markups. Before the recess, the Senate cleared legislation to set topline spending levels for the next two fiscal years and suspend the debt limit through July 2021. That means the House and Senate may have to reconcile funding levels and must act quickly to complete the appropriations bills before funding runs out on September 30.

Roundup and Review

Washington eBulletin – August 2019

A Look Ahead

August Recess Begins

With members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate back in their states and districts for the August Congressional recess, now is the perfect time to invite your legislators to your law library; attend town halls or breakfast meetings hosted by your members of Congress; or visit your members’ district offices to educate them about your law library and promote AALL’s legislative priorities–including cosponsoring the Electronic Court Records Reform Act (H.R. 1164/S. 2064), supporting full funding for the Library of Congress and the Law Library of Congress, and supporting the Senate version of the Save the Internet Act (S. 682). The AALL Advocacy Toolkit provides tips for making these in-district connections. Contact Emily Feltren, AALL director of government relations, for assistance setting up visits and meetings.

In-person meetings are key to effective advocacy, but online connections matter, too. You can take action right now on AALL’s legislative priorities through the AALL Legislative Action Center.

Senate Judiciary Committee Leaders Look to Modernize Copyright Office

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, announced in an op-ed and during an oversight hearing of the U.S. Copyright Office in July that his Subcommittee is establishing a “bipartisan, bicameral working group that will meet regularly with copyright stakeholders to discuss Copyright Office modernization” through roundtables and “introduce legislation based on this feedback by the end of the year.” Sen. Tillis said during his opening statement at the July 30 oversight hearing that he thinks the Copyright Office “may not have the necessary autonomy and authority” to quickly modernize.

AALL supports efforts to modernize the Copyright Office, including through additional appropriations. However, we oppose any efforts to give the Copyright Office more “autonomy” by moving it out of the Library of Congress, as past proposed in the last Congress. AALL will continue to monitor proposed changes and engage with the Library of Congress, Copyright Office, and Congress as a copyright stakeholder.

AALL in the States

Four UELMA Resolutions Adopted at AALL 2019 

Four resolutions in support of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA) were approved at the AALL General Business Meeting Monday, July 15 in Washington, DC, including a resolution updating the 2013 AALL UELMA resolution and resolutions celebrating the enactment of UELMA in IowaMichigan, and Texas.

Roundup and Review

  • AALL joined a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives in support of the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (H.R. 736). The bill passed the House on July 17.
  • Here’s what to expect from the forthcoming net neutrality decision.

Washington eBulletin – July 2019

A Look Ahead

National Archives Responds to Concerns About Obama Presidential Library

In June, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) hosted a meeting between NARA leadership and nongovernmental organizations interested in access to government information, including AALL. In advance of the meeting, AALL requested that an update about the Obama Presidential Library be included on the agenda to address concerns about the Obama Foundation’s plans for an all-digital library. NARA had previously stated that, “The Obama Foundation, a private entity, made the decision not to construct a Presidential Library for NARA to house the textual and audiovisual records and artifacts. Instead it will provide funding for the digitization of records so they can be made available online.”

Donius provided assurances that the digitization of President Barack Obama’s records by a private contractor for the Obama Foundation will be required to meet all NARA standards and will be ingested with metadata into NARA’s searchable Electronic Records Archives. Donius also reiterated that NARA takes seriously the need to make presidential archivists and librarians available to assist users with the digital material.

AALL will continue to track plans for the Obama Presidential Library and update members on further developments.

Act Now

Learn Advocacy Skills at the Annual Meeting

AALL members will converge on Capitol Hill on July 12 for AALL 2019 Lobby Day to champion legal information and celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Association’s advocacy program. In addition to Lobby Day, there are several opportunities for AALL Annual Meeting attendees to learn about AALL’s legislative priorities and successes. The AALL Public Policy Update will provide information about the Association’s legislative priorities and activities and will offer an opportunity to hear from the winners of the AALL Public Access to Government Information Award and Robert L. Oakley Advocacy Award. The 30 Years on the Front Lines: The Past, Present, and Future of Information Policy Advocacy at AALL program will inform participants of the meaningful successes enjoyed by AALL’s advocacy efforts during the last three decades and inspire participants to get involved to make meaningful contributions at the federal and state levels.

Roundup and Review

  • Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ted Cruz (R-Tx.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) introduced the Senate version of the Electronic Court Records Reform Act to free access to the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. AALL strongly supports the bill.
  • The federal Judiciary is looking for people to serve on a new public user group on PACER. Applications are due July 26
  • AALL joined a letter to urge the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to approve the bipartisan Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act of 2019 (H.R. 150/S. 1829). On June 19, the Committee voted to favorably report the bill
  • AALL urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring the Save the Internet Act (S.682) to a vote in the Senate. The bill restores strong net neutrality protections.