Washington E-Bulletin - August 2013

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Vol. 2013, Issue 08

A Look Ahead

Congress’s To-Do List Grows
On Friday, Congress will head out of town to begin its annual five-week August recess, leaving behind a growing legislative to-do list in Washington. Government funding runs dry in only two months, on September 30. While both chambers have passed Fiscal Year 2014 budgets, a conference committee has yet to be established— and may never be— for political reasons. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have reported 10 of their 12 bills each, including those for Legislative Branch and Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittees. But with the appropriations process once again stalled out of committee, a stopgap “continuing resolution” (CR) seems imminent. The CR will need to be signed into law just nine legislative days after the House returns to session in order to keep the government open and funded.

With roughly one year to go before the November midterm elections, the political environment makes the government funding fight, and the subsequent debt ceiling debate, particularly politically charged. Nonetheless, there has been some progress on our issues. On July 25, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee favorably reported out of committee the nomination of Davita Vance-Cooks to be Public Printer of the United States. In early June, the five major library associations – AALL, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, Medical Library Association and Special Libraries Association – submitted a statement for the record in support of her nomination to lead the Government Printing Office. 

The National Security Agency (NSA) revelations of early summer have remained the primary focus for lawmakers, though consensus on how to proceed has yet to be reached. Yesterday (July 31), the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on "Strengthening Privacy Rights and National Security: Oversight of FISA Surveillance Programs." AALL joined 60 organizations to send a letter to the Committee in support of reform and oversight, particularly via Chairman Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013 (S. 1215) and Senators Merkley (D-Ore.) and Lee’s (R-Utah) Ending Secret Law Act (S. 1130). The hearing provided an opportunity for the Senators to ask intelligence community leaders tough questions on the legality and scope of the surveillance programs.  Of particular interest to libraries, Chairman Leahy asked Deputy Attorney General James Cole if Section 215 could be used to collect other types of records beyond phone metadata, including internet records, firearms records and credit card records. Deputy Attorney General Cole emphasized the need for relevance but did not deny the possibility of such collection. Since the enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act, AALL’s primary concern has been the government’s ability, under Section 215, to access information from libraries about patron records without probable cause. AALL continues to advocate for reform to ensure privacy protection for library users and safeguard the rights of all Americans.

While Congress will have a heavy load to lift in the coming months, the August recess will afford a valuable opportunity to advocate for the issues that matter most to law libraries.  Attend a town hall meeting and ask your Representative about his position on reining in government surveillance to protect the privacy rights of Americans.  Schedule a visit with your Senators to talk about reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Invite your legislators to tour your library and demonstrate the importance of the Federal Depository Library Program. The Government Relations Committee’s advocacy one-pagers and our action alerts provide you with key talking points on these issues.

As constituents of your elected officials and knowledgeable law librarians, you hold the power and authority to be able to influence the policies that affect you and your libraries. The GRO is available to help with scheduling, invitations, and advocacy materials. Our upcoming training (more below) will help you prepare to take action. If you are interested in participating in our August recess advocacy campaign but are unable to attend the training, please send an email to Elizabeth Holland at eholland@aall.org

Act Now

August Recess is (Almost) Here! Online Advocacy Training Aug. 7
This Friday, Congress will begin its annual August Recess, sending legislators to their home districts and states through Labor Day. With the stalled budget deal and NSA surveillance likely on their minds, your lawmakers are ready to hear from their constituents. You can take advantage of this opportunity by attending town hall meetings, scheduling lobby visits, or even inviting your legislator to tour your library.  The relationships you build with your lawmakers and their staffs this August will establish you as an expert on AALL’s information policy issues and serve you well in the months to come.

Join the GRO on Wednesday, August 7 from 12:00 - 12:30 pm EDT for our complimentary online advocacy training, “Recess Advocacy: Tips for Influencing Members of Congress at Home.” We’ll delve a little deeper into the preparations you should take to influence your members of Congress and help you make an impact this month. Register online by Monday, August 5.

Thank House Supporters of PATRIOT Act Reform
As we reported on the Washington Blawg, last week the House of Representatives voted down an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 2397) that would have curtailed the NSA’s ability to collect Americans’ phone data. Offered by Representative Justin Amash (R-Mich.), the amendment sought to limit the scope of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and was defeated by only a narrow margin of 205-217.  

The Amash amendment vote signals growing opposition to the NSA’s broad surveillance program and a new political opportunity for PATRIOT Act reform. If your Representative voted in favor of the Amash amendment, please take a moment to thank him/her using our Legislative Action Center. In doing so, you’ll reaffirm constituent support for PATRIOT Act reform and help to establish a relationship with your member’s office.

AALL in the States

Chapter Advocacy Update
The GRO welcomed new chapter presidents, vice-presidents, and government relations chairs at our first-ever Chapter Government Relations Get-Together in Seattle. Participants discussed their chapters’ most recent advocacy initiatives and even competed in our U(ELMA).S.A. map game. Thanks to all who attended this successful event!

Chapter leadership and government relations chairs have been added to our chapter government relations listserv for 2013-2014, where chapter contacts are invited to share news, events, and policy updates, pose questions, and brainstorm best practices and strategies in the forum. Their submissions will be featured here in this monthly column.

If you are a member of a chapter that doesn’t yet have a government relations committee, the GRO can work with you to create one. If you’re interested in doing so, please contact Elizabeth Holland (eholland@aall.org) for guidance, sample government relations policies, and other resources.

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