Guest Post: Confessions of a Novice Lobbyer

February 9, 2015

By Ronald Wheeler, Director of the Law Library & Information Resources & Associate Professor of Legal Research, Suffolk University Law School

In just five weeks, AALL will host its third Local Advocate Lobby Day in Washington, D.C.  Last March, I traveled to D.C. to attend the second Lobby Day and the experience was transformative for me.  Here’s why:

Although I had done some lobbying on the state level for LGBT rights issues back when I lived in New Mexico, before my trip to D.C., I had never met face-to-face with a U.S. congressperson or with their staff.  I had also never lobbied on issues related to law librarianship or to my professional life. I had always lobbied about deeply personal issues, calling on heartfelt emotions and personal experience to carry me through if I somehow faltered in meetings. So, the idea of meeting with my members of Congress to talk about the issues affecting my job was, frankly, terrifying to me. And, as a resident of California at the time, my members of Congress were media darlings with the equivalent of rock star status in my mind. The prospect of meeting with the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and Diane Feinstein had me quaking in my boots.

Thankfully, when I arrived in D.C., all of my fears and insecurities were anticipated and expertly dealt with by AALL’s Government Relations Office (GRO) staff. First – after welcoming us to Lobby Day headquarters in Capitol Hill and feeding us breakfast – the GRO staff administered an extremely well-run, detailed, and thorough advocacy training. We AALL volunteer advocates were given a presentation describing the bills we were to focus on, their current progress in Congress, and the issues being currently debated in the legislation. I walked away knowing the pros and cons of each bill, my senators and representative’s position on each, and written talking points to refer to during my conversations with my members of Congress’s staffs. I was given time to ask questions, to familiarize myself with each bill and its issues, and to practice my shtick.  By the time we were headed to the Hill, I felt entirely prepared and equipped to engage with my congresspersons.

In the afternoon, I met with staffers from Representative Pelosi, Senator Boxer, and Senator Feinstein’s offices. The legislative staff I spoke with was open and friendly and thankful to be briefed on issues like the Email Privacy Act and the recently-passed name change of the Government Printing Office to the Government Publishing Office.

The experience gave me a feeling of satisfaction for having conquered my fears and for doing essential work for my premier professional association. I learned about the AALL legislative priorities and their significance, I built valuable lobbying skills, and I formed relationships with staffers at my legislators’ offices.

My participation in AALL Lobby Day was a great experience. I highly recommend you give it a try for yourself.  I honestly had a blast, and if I can do it, anyone can.

The 2015 AALL Lobby Day will be held on Wednesday, March 18 in Washington, D.C. Register now to participate.


FCC Chairman Unveils Plan to Protect Net Neutrality

February 6, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

This week, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler announced a proposal to regulate broadband Internet service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, protecting net neutrality by reclassifying the Internet as a public utility. The Commission is expected to vote on the Chairman’s plan on February 26.

AALL applauds the decision of Chairman Wheeler to rely on Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the authority for which we advocated in our July comments to the FCC. Reclassification under Title II would subject Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to common carrier rules that better ensure equal, nondiscriminatory access to content on the Internet and require ISPs to operate more transparently. In an op-ed on Wired.com published Wednesday, Chairman Wheeler wrote, “Using [Title II], I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services….My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.”

While Open Internet advocates, content providers like Twitter and Netflix, and many Congressional Democrats lauded the Chairman’s decision, the proposed reclassification drew criticism from others. Senator John Thune, who recently floated legislation to restrict the FCC’s authority on net neutrality, said in a statement, “Chairman Wheeler’s proposal to regulate the Internet as a public utility is not about net neutrality – it is a power grab for the federal government by the chairman of a supposedly independent agency who finally succumbed to the bully tactics of political activists and the president himself.” Meanwhile, ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon look poised to sue. With the late February vote fast approaching, legal challenges could make for a more drawn out process.

Net neutrality is critical to law libraries, their missions, and their patrons. AALL urges to the Commission to adopt the Chairman’s proposal.


February Washington E-Bulletin

February 2, 2015

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

IN THIS ISSUE
Vol. 2015, Issue 02

A LOOK AHEAD

ACT NOW

AALL IN THE STATES

ROUNDUP AND REVIEW


On Data Privacy Day, ECPA Stands Frozen in Time

January 28, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

Today is Data Privacy Day, the annual event aimed at drawing attention to the importance of protecting privacy on the Internet. And guess what? The law that protects the privacy of your online communications and that of your library patrons from government intrusion, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), has still not been updated since it was authored in 1986.

ECPA was passed into law at time when people did not have laptops, did not utilize the cloud, or did not generally use email. Of course, lawmakers did not anticipate the technological advancements of the decades to come, let alone establish the appropriate protections needed to accommodate them. How could they have? The rules governing your online privacy are older than the Web itself. While technology has advanced at a rapid pace, electronic privacy law has remained at a standstill. Without reform, the kind of electronic communications and records that are common today— think any email, Facebook posts, search history, cloud computing documents, cell phone location information, or text messages older than 180 days— can be freely seized without a warrant.

In the last Congress, efforts to update ECPA received broad, bipartisan support, but ultimately stalled. The House bill, the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 1852), even gained a majority 272 co-sponsors, but was never awarded floor time because one federal agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, worked to keep the bill from coming to fruition.

We anticipate last year’s sponsors will introduce their legislation to update ECPA shortly, and we have urged members the Senate and House to move swiftly to advance the bills. It has been 29 years since ECPA was enacted. Reform is long overdue and there is no better time to focus on the need to protect individuals’ privacy online than on Data Privacy Day.


“Understanding the Federal Budget Process” Feb. 11 Online Advocacy Training

January 23, 2015

Does the federal budget process seem like an insiders’ game? You don’t have to be a policy wonk to understand the budget cycle and its impact on libraries! Join the Government Relations Office staff for a 30 minute online advocacy training to learn about the budget process and how you can make a difference for libraries and your community.

“Understanding the Federal Budget Process”

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

12:00 – 12:30 pm EST

Register here.

Director of Government Relations Emily Feltren and Public Policy Associate Elizabeth Holland will walk you through the twists and turns of the federal budget process and help you understand where your voice is needed most. We’ll help demystify the budget process by answering questions like: How does the budget process work? Is there a timeline for appropriations bills? What’s the difference between discretionary and mandatory spending? See our 2014 federal budget primer to get a sense of the topics we’ll cover.

This training is complimentary for AALL and chapter members. Advanced registration is required.


Congressional Republicans Shift Attention to Net Neutrality Rules

January 21, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

Congress will hold back-to-back hearings on net neutrality today in the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Technology and Communications and the Senate Commerce Committee, giving lawmakers an opportunity to weigh in weeks before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to unveil its new rules and kicking off what will likely be a contentious partisan debate.

Aiming to head off the impending FCC vote, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) and Representative Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairmen of the Senate and House Commerce Committees respectively, circulated draft legislation last week to restrict the agency’s authority on net neutrality. The proposed bill would prohibit Internet service providers from blocking or throttling content, or from prioritizing web traffic from those sites that pay for faster access to the consumer, and would apply to both wired and wireless providers. However, the bill would also prevent the FCC from reclassifying broadband as a Title II telecommunications service, a regulatory move designed to give the agency more solid legal footing on which to issue strong net neutrality rules as President Obama (and AALL) have urged. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has hinted that he will propose Title II reclassification to the commission for it Feb. 26 vote on new rules.

While the proposal to limit the FCC’s authority to enforce net neutrality has garnered criticism from net neutrality advocates and congressional Democrats, the legislation suggests a shift for congressional Republicans, who had previously expressed doubts about the need for net neutrality rules at all. Meanwhile, President Obama renewed his call for strong net neutrality rules during his State of the Union address last night. In this remarks, the President pledged “protect a free and open Internet” but did not directly address his support for open Internet rules under Title II reclassification.

While AALL welcomes Congressional action to protect net neutrality, we are concerned the current legislative proposal fails to adequately protect the principles of the open Internet in a number of ways. Our friends at Public Knowledge have an excellent write up of the bill’s shortcomings. The proposed legislation also raises concerns for law libraries because of a copyright provision included in section 13(c)(2), which states “nothing in this section…prohibits reasonable efforts by a provider of broadband Internet access service to address copyright infringement or other unlawful activity.” We maintain our belief that the FCC should establish a firm foundation for net neutrality rules by reclassifying broadband Internet access as a Title II telecommunications service and oppose legislative efforts to prevent such an authority.


Civil Society Groups Issue Progress Report on Open Government NAP

January 14, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

A collection of civil society groups, convened by OpentheGovernment.org and including AALL, has released the second of three progress reports on the U.S. government’s 2014-2015 National Action Plan (NAP) as part of the international Open Government Partnership (OGP). As you recall, the White House set forth 23 new or expanded commitments in open government in its second NAP, released in December 2013.  This one-year progress report, which comes at the mid-point of the current NAP, finds that the U.S. government remains on track to meet the majority of its commitments. The progress report assesses commitments in three areas: commitments where there is substantial progress; commitments where there has been some progress, but concerns remain; and commitments where there has been no progress. Most commitments fall into the middle category. It appears, the report concludes, that more progress has been made on those commitments which are being implemented with the active engagement of civil society than on those where implementation lacked civil society’s regular and collaborative engagement.

Commitment areas of interest to AALL members include improving the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); agency open government plans; modernizing records management; reforming government websites; and national security classification. Progress in each of these areas has been mixed. For instance, while both the Office of Information Policy (OIP) and Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) have taken steps to collaborate with civil society on FOIA commitments like consolidated online FOIA services and the creation of a FOIA Modernization Committee, progress has stalled on improving FOIA training and developing a common regulation. With regards to open government plans, we were pleased to see that the majority of agencies met the June 1 deadline to update their plans and more than a dozen agencies that were not specifically required to develop plans continue to participate in the initiative. However, several large and/or important agencies failed to publish updated plans, including the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which has yet to publish an updated plan since its first version was issued in 2010. On classification issues, civil society groups met with =the Classification Reform Committee, chaired by National Security Council staff, and shared their recommendations in a follow-up letter, but have yet to receive a response. The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) held a public meeting on the declassification of Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) on nuclear activities, though no progress on FRDs has been otherwise achieved.

As the report concludes, we “are hopeful that the US government’s engagement with civil society will continue to increase in both frequency and depth so the US may take full advantage of the Open Government Partnership’s opportunities.”


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