Washington E-Bulletin – December 2014

Vol. 2014, Issue 12

A Look Ahead

Setting the Scene
December was supposed to be a quiet month for members of Congress, who planned to finish a productive lame-duck session and clear the decks in advance of the new Republican majority. Instead, legislators will return to Washington today to face several major battles and may find next year’s agenda consumed with leftover business – including legislation in areas of interest to law librarians – after all.

In late November, Republicans blocked a vote on the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685), pushing surveillance reform to the new Congress. Two years after the Snowden leaks, members of both houses will vote in the new Congress to either continue the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying program or end it; Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which grants the NSA its power to collect the phone records of millions of Americans, will expire on June 1, 2015.

President Obama’s recent defense of network neutrality has also set up a likely battle with Congress in 2015. In his strongest statement to date, the President argued for broadband companies to be regulated as utilities under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, the same legal authority supported by AALL in our July comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pledged that “Republicans will continue our efforts to stop this misguided scheme to regulate the Internet” in the next Congress. “Federal bureaucrats should not be in the business of regulating the Internet — not now, not ever,” he said in a statement. Obama’s announcement threw the FCC’s plans to write new rules by December into a tailspin. New rules aren’t expected until next year.

Also up in 2015: Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has pledged to move forward with an update to copyright law. All year, the House Judiciary Committee has reviewed current copyright law “to ensure that copyright is still working in the 21st Century to reward creativity and protect the rights of authors, artists, and creators,” he said in recent remarks. “The copyright review has not yet concluded so it is too early to draw any definitive conclusions about the Committee’s next steps. However as our formal hearings draw to a close, the Committee will be seeking your input on what should, and what should not, be improved within our nation’s copyright laws.” The Intellectual Property Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee may find a new chairman in Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who ends his term as Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this year.

Whatever Congress does and doesn’t do in the next two weeks will set the scene for law librarian advocacy in the 114th – something you can learn about in greater detail at our December 10 online advocacy training (information below). Several big-ticket items remain in the lame duck: in just ten days’ time, Congress must pass bills to keep the government running to avoid a shutdown, renew President Obama’s authorization to strike at militants in Iraq and Syria, and continue tax breaks set to expire. If those deadlines slip into next year, they’ll just be added to a growing to-do list.  

Act Now

“Look Into Our Crystal Ball” on Dec. 10: Register Now!
With a new Republican majority in both chambers of Congress and split political power between the Congress and White House, the November elections have changed the legislative landscape significantly. Join us at our next online training on Wednesday, December 10 at 12:00 pm ET as we discuss this new environment and determine strategic opportunities for law librarian advocacy in “Look Into Our Crystal Ball: Law Librarian Advocacy in the New Congress.” In this 30 minute session, we’ll assess the new opportunities and challenges for advocacy on issues such as access to government information, copyright, and access to justice, while considering the makeup of the 114th Congress and the skills you need to effectively engage legislators on AALL’s policy priorities. Register by December 9. 

AALL in the States

NOCALL Members Prove it Pays to Speak Up for Access to Legal Information
Submitted by Michele Finerty, NOCALL President
The Northern California Association of Law Libraries (NOCALL) reported recent success in their efforts to make a local court records system more user and business friendly. Members of NOCALL offered comments on a newly updated Domain Web service for Alameda Superior Court and submitted them to the Court Administrator at a town hall meeting sponsored by the Alameda County Bar Association.  On October 15, the Alameda Superior Court Domain Web for electronic court records announced updates and changes to the program that include many of the suggestions offered by NOCALL.  For example, the samples of “case numbers” have been restored so that users can see how to enter case numbers again. Special thanks to NOCALL member Diane Rodriguez, who alerted the membership to these concerns and took action by collecting and submitting NOCALL members’ suggestions to the court.  Her initiative demonstrates once again that, because law librarians are in the frontlines of using court documents, we can provide a useful perspective in assuring easy access to legal information!

SANDALL Winter Institute Focuses on UELMA
Submitted by Michelle Knapp, SANDALL Vice President
Register now for the SANDALL 2015 Winter Institute! This one-day conference on digital authentication will be held at the University of San Diego on January 9, 2015. Several states, including California, have enacted the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act. Learn about best practices, authentication technologies, and advocacy efforts from state officials, government experts, law librarians, and AALL Director of Government Relations, Emily Feltren. Early bird rates are available until December 12. More information is available here. This event has been made possible by a grant from the AALL/Bloomberg BNA Continuing Education Grant Program.

Round up and Review