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.