Washington E-Bulletin – January 2016

Vol. 2016, Issue 01

A Look Ahead

What’s to Come in 2016?

Members of Congress are returning to Washington after Congress’s winter break, with the House back in town this week and the Senate returning next week. Lawmakers have less time than last year to get things done, with just over 110 scheduled voting days on the House’s calendar and with election-year politics distracting lawmakers from the business of legislating. However, the election year brings special opportunities to get to know your lawmakers while they spend more time in their districts and to promote AALL’s top policy priorities on Capitol Hill. Looking into our crystal ball, we believe the following issues present the best chance for action this year.

Access to Government Information
Increased attention to the need for access to Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports may help move this issue, which AALL has advocated in favor of for more than a decade. AALL is working with a coalition of like-minded advocates pushing for greater access to CRS reports, and we support a House resolution (H.Res 34) to create a centralized, searchable database for these reports.

We also hold out hope that Congress will return to a more predictable appropriations process, as leaders of the House and Senate have committed to return to “regular order” for appropriations. Regular order would allow more frequent and predictable opportunities for AALL members to speak out for adequate funding for the agencies we support, including the Government Publishing Office and Library of Congress.

Now that the House Judiciary Committee has finished its years-long examination of copyright law, the Committee is considering next steps for reform. As you may recall, Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) kicked off a series of 20 hearings in 2013, saying the Committee’s goal was to “determine whether the laws are still working in the digital age.” The first hearing, held in March 2013, featured testimony from Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante, who outlined her vision for what she refers to as “the Next Great Copyright Act”. Recently, several members of the House Judiciary Committee have introduced the Copyright Office for the Digital Economy Act or CODE Act (H.R. 4241), which would establish the Copyright Office as an independent legislative branch agency separate from the Library of Congress. AALL opposes the CODE Act because we believe such a move would weaken the Copyright Office and create barriers for the Library of Congress in building a comprehensive national collection. As we await more information about the Committee’s next steps, we will continue to advocate for an equitable balance in copyright law between the rights of information users and rights of copyright owners and licensors.

Another issue ripe for action is the much-needed update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). In December, Chairman Goodlatte held the Committee’s first hearing on the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699), which would update electronic communications privacy laws to protect the privacy of citizens and library users while balancing law enforcement and national security needs. H.R. 699 is cosponsored by 308 members of the House and would easily pass if brought to the House floor for a vote. However, the Securities and Exchange Commission is asking for an exemption that would allow the agency to access content stored by third-party service providers without a warrant, a move that would weaken the legislation. AALL will continue to push Congressional leadership to modernize the outdated privacy law by allowing clean ECPA bills to go to the floor for a vote.

Act Now

Nominations for PAGI and Oakley Advocacy Awards due February 1

AALL’s Government Relations Committee is seeking nominations for the 2016 Public Access to Government Information (PAGI) and  Robert L. Oakley Advocacy awards. If you would like to nominate an individual or group for one or both of these awards, please send your nominations to Government Relations Committee chair Peggy Jarrett by February 1, 2016.

Roundup and Review

  • AALL submitted comments to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on proposed revisions to Circular A-130, emphasizing the need for agencies to consider permanent public access and preservation in managing their information
  • We signed on to a letter to OMB expressing concerns that the agency is not complying with the President’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government
  • There’s a new site hosting CRS reports, aptly called CRSReports.com. While this a helpful site for research, as explained above, AALL strongly believes the government should host these reports