Increasing LSC Funding Increases Access to Justice

April 15, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

Law libraries provide access to timely, reliable, and accurate legal information and services that can be used by anyone, regardless of background.  As trusted institutions, law libraries play a fundamental role in providing members of the public with the resources needed to preserve their legal rights and helping to ensure the effective functioning of the judicial system.  With the number of self-represented litigants steadily increasing, law libraries, particularly public law libraries, have positioned themselves as key contributors to ensuring access to justice for all.

AALL is again working to support the funding request of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. Established by Congress in 1974, LSC is the country’s single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans. LSC is a grant-making organization, distributing nearly 94 percent of its federal appropriation to eligible nonprofit organizations that deliver civil legal aid.  With more than 800 offices nationwide, LSC promotes equal access to justice by funding high-quality civil legal assistance for millions of low-income individuals, children, families, seniors, and veterans.

Adjusted for inflation, the LSC budget is near its lowest funding level in its 40-year history. Congress provided the LSC with $365 million this fiscal year, a meaningful boost of $25 million from the previous year. Still, that number is far below the $420 million appropriated in FY 2010. President Barack Obama’s budget request of $430 million would enable LSC to better meet the overwhelming demand for legal aid.

Earlier this month, the White House convened a “Forum on Increasing Access to Justice” with LSC. Administration officials including Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler, Associate Attorney General Tony West, and Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady Tina Tchen underscored the administration’s commitment to increasing access to justice, while LSC Program Counsel for Technology Glenn Rawdon gave an inspired speech about the role of technology in achieving this goal.

The American Bar Association also came out in strong support of increased funding for LSC with an op-ed published in The Hill this week. In it, President James Silkenat writes, “Access to justice is not an abstract right…Congress can help Americans live safer, more productive lives by giving them access to legal aid.”

AALL members, including President Steve Anderson, urged their members of Congress to support the FY 2015 funding request of the Legal Services Corporation as part of AALL’s Lobby Day event on March 27. The Associations’ Access to Justice Special Committee is working to complete a White Paper on the participation of law libraries in the access to justice movement for presentation to the Executive Board. You can lend your support by writing your member of Congress in support of LSC funding for FY 2015.


Call for ECPA Reform Puts Pressure on SEC

April 11, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

With the House proposal to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) garnering 200 co-sponsors this week, the members of the Digital Fourth coalition — the ACLU, Heritage Action, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Center for Democracy & Technology — sent a letter to the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) calling out the agency’s “contradictory or misleading statements” about its work to oppose the popular proposed reform. The SEC has been a vocal opponent of bipartisan legislation (H.R. 1852, S. 607) that would reform ECPA to establish a search warrant requirement for the government to obtain the content of Americans’ emails when those communications are stored with a third-party service provider for more than 180 days.  While this legislation has gained broad bipartisan support in both chambers, the SEC has dragged its feet, claiming an update would interfere with the way it conducts investigations.

In the letter, sent to the commission on Wednesday, Digital Fourth proposed an amendment developed with the lead sponsor of the bill, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), to assuage these concerns and implored the SEC to compromise. The amendment would assure that “ECPA cannot be used to shield data in the cloud from ordinary discovery techniques” by allowing the SEC and other regulators to use a subpoena to obtain information held by third-party service providers during the course of an investigation.

AALL strongly supports these proposed reforms to ECPA, which ensure important protections to the privacy of library users. As a member of the Digital Due Process coalition, we advocate for reform that would balance the government’s interest in protecting national security with the protections of privacy and freedom from government surveillance the Constitution requires. As such, we echo the call to the SEC to back these widely-supported commonsense reforms and urge Congress to enact ECPA reform this year.


House Appropriations Committee Approves Legislative Branch Bill

April 9, 2014

By Emily Feltren

Today, the House Appropriations Committee favorably reported its Fiscal Year 2015 Legislative Branch bill, which includes funding for the Government Printing Office (GPO) and Library of Congress. Given the continued fiscal constraints facing appropriators, the two agencies fared reasonably well this year.

The bill provides GPO with $122,584,000, an amount $3.3 million above the FY 2014 level but $6.3 million below the request. Most notably, the bill meets GPO’s request for the Revolving Fund, providing $11,348,000 for development of FDsys, replacement of the Composition System, and much-needed facilities repairs.

Government Printing Office (Amounts in thousands of dollars)

Congressional
Printing and Binding
Salaries and Expenses Revolving Fund Total
FY2014 Enacted 79,736 31,500 8,064 119,300
FY2015 Request 85,400 32,171 11,348 128,919
FY2015 House Bill 79,736 31,500 11,348 122,584

The bill provides the Library of Congress with $594,952,000, a remarkable $16 million above the FY 2014 level and $1.9 million above the request. Importantly, the Draft Committee Report emphasizes the need to address the preservation challenges facing the Library. The bill includes funding for the Preservation Directorate, including support for mass deacidification. The bill also provides additional funding for the purchase of law books and for the Copyright Office to improve its technologies. It also directs the Government Accountability Office to review the steps the Library has taken to manage its information technology.

Library of Congress (Amounts in thousands of dollars)

Salaries and Expenses Copyright Office Books for the Blind
and Physically Handicapped
Total
FY2014 Enacted 405,702 18,180 49,750 578,982
FY2015 Request 414,502 19,486 50,696 593,066
FY2015 House Bill 417,707 20,721 50,429 594,952

AALL thanks the House Appropriations Committee for addressing many of the funding priorities of GPO and the Library, several of which we highlighted in our written testimony.  We will continue to support as close to full funding as possible for GPO and the Library as the appropriations process proceeds in the House and Senate.


April Washington E-Bulletin

April 1, 2014

The April issue of the Washington E-Bulletin is now available on AALLNET.

IN THIS ISSUE

Vol. 2014, Issue 04

A LOOK AHEAD

ACT NOW

AALL IN THE STATES

ROUNDUP AND REVIEW


Ready, Set, Advocate! It’s AALL’s Virtual Lobby Day

March 27, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

Today, nearly two dozen of your law librarian colleagues will meet with their members of Congress on Capitol Hill to discuss the most pressing issues affecting your profession. Help to magnify their influence and make a difference for law libraries by contacting your members of Congress today!

Our Legislative Action Center is ready to send customizable emails to your members of Congress on our top Lobby Day issues with just the click of a button. Prefer to advocate over the phone?  You can find lobby day talking points on all of our legislative priorities on AALLNET, along with our best tips for contacting legislators.

This year, Lobby Day participants are targeting members of Congress with specific asks based on their interests and committee assignments. If you registered in advance to participate in our Virtual Lobby Day, you will have already received the materials you need to take action on targeted issues. If not, never fear! Enter your home address in our Legislative Action Center to get all the information you’ll need about your members of Congress.  For instance, you can consider your members’ committee assignments to determine what issues they’re most likely to support. If your Congressman sits on the House Judiciary committee, pitch him on ECPA reform. If he sits on House Oversight, consider asking him to co-sponsor FASTR. If he voted “yea” on the Amash amendment to defund the NSA, you may have luck in asking him to co-sponsor the USA FREEDOM Act. On the Senate side, Rules Committee members can be approached about supporting the Government Publishing Act of 2014 to change the name of GPO. Senate Judiciary Committee members are good targets for ECPA reform or the USA FREEDOM Act. Are your members of Congress on the Appropriations Committees? Contact them in support of GPO and LC. The Action Center profiles will also show if your legislators are co-sponsors of AALL’s target legislation—if they’re not, you can ask them to co-sponsor.

Participating in the Virtual Lobby Day is really that painless. By making a call or sending an email today, you’ll give AALL a strong showing on Capitol Hill and help to advance a policy agenda that makes a difference for law libraries.

Thanks for all that you do!


Guest Post: Participating in Virtual Lobby Day Can be Virtually Painless

March 25, 2014

By David McFadden, Senior Reference Librarian at Southwester Law School and member of  AALL’s Government Relations Committee

So, you’re interested in law librarian advocacy. Participating in a legislative lobby day is a great stepping stone for building relationships and staying in contact with your legislators and/or their staff. Even when you don’t have a lot to discuss, the connections you create and maintain during a meeting with your legislators can prove helpful for later, bigger “asks” on important campaigns. And, it is really rewarding when you meet or contact a legislator and they actually know who you are!

But what if you can’t pack up and fly all the way to D.C. for the upcoming 2014 Local Advocate Lobby Day?  Don’t fear. You can still participate. The AALL Government Relations Office is also sponsoring a Virtual Lobby Day this Thursday, March 27.

The nice thing about the Virtual Lobby Day is that it doesn’t take up a lot of your time or money. By signing up to participate in our Virtual Lobby Day, you will commit to making a simple phone call or sending an email message to your members of Congress. In doing so, you will help make a difference for law libraries.

One common concern  of new advocates is that you don’t know what to say to legislators. In past campaigns, I’ve always tried to make it easier to get librarians to help out by providing materials and samples. The Government Relations Office staff does the same thing. If you sign up, they will send directions, tips, background information on legislation, talking points, and sample messages to your inbox on our day of action. Depending on your member of Congress’ background and committee assignments, the Government Relations Office staff will even help you to determine to which pieces of legislation your members of Congress will be most receptive.

Legislative advocacy often consists of many small little steps. Virtual Lobby Day is one of those. Help out in a small and relatively painless way to further the legislative efforts of law librarians.


Celebrating Sunshine Week with Webcasts, TGA, and More

March 14, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

Sunshine Week officially kicks off Sunday, but we’ve already got much to celebrate.

Yesterday, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) introduced the Transparency in Government Act of 2014 (H.R. 4245). The bill includes a number of important transparency provisions that would bring improved public access and openness to the work of all three branches of government.  Highlights include:

  • Requiring all congressional committees to post public hearings and markup schedules, related bill language, witness testimony, and audio and video recordings online.
  • Making Members’ recorded votes more accessible by requiring the Clerk of the House to publish vote records online in an easily searchable, structured data format, and for Members to include their individual vote record on congressional websites.
  • Requiring the Government Accountability Office to audit the current budget, costs associated with and effectiveness of PACER and make recommendations to Congress, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and other appropriate offices on improvements
  • Increasing public access to Supreme Court proceedings by requiring by law the audio recording of oral arguments and live-streaming of the recordings on the Supreme Court’s website.
  • Making Congressional Research Service reports available to the public.
  • Strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by requiring agencies to put all completed FOIA requests online in a format that is searchable, sortable and downloadable. Also ensures that all agencies utilize the website FOIA Online to log, track and publish the status of requests.
  • Improving access to White House and agency visitor logs.

Though the bill likely won’t progress as a complete package, we’re thankful to Congressman Quigley for starting off Sunshine Week with such a comprehensive and thoughtful approach to government transparency.

This morning, we’re joining OpentheGovernment.org (OTG) and the Newseum’s First Amendment Center for their National Freedom of Information Day Conference and co-sponsoring the annual webcast so you can join too. This year’s event will feature several panels, including one which promises to bring together reporters and policy-makers to “talk about the 1971 break-in to the Media, PA FBI Field Office and the current leaks of information about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, the effects on society in these cases, and resulting reforms in intelligence policy and practice.”  Tune in between 8:30 am and 2:00 pm EST.

When Sunshine Week kicks off in earnest next week, you can expect lots of events and news from open government organizations in Washington and beyond. Here are some highlights: On Monday March 17, the Department of Justice will host its annual program to describe the current state of FOIA administration and mark the fifth anniversary of the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines. On Tuesday, March 18, the Collaboration on Government Secrecy (CGS) will sponsor its Seventh Annual Freedom of Information Day Celebration. View a PDF of the agenda, and find more details on the CGS website. On Wednesday March 19, the House Advisory Committee on Transparency will discuss “The Future of FOIA.” The committee educates policymakers on transparency-related issues, problems, and solutions and shares ideas with members of the Congressional Transparency Caucus. Several of these events will be recorded and posted online, and we’ll let you know when they’re available.

Happy Sunshine Week!


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