March 22, 1999
Honorable James E. "Pete" Laney
Speaker of the House
Texas House of Representatives
Room 2W.13, Capitol Building
Austin, TX 78701
BY FAX: 512.463.0675
Dear Speaker of the House Laney:
On behalf of the members of the American Association of Law Libraries, I write to you today to urge your full support for H.B. 1477, a bill that was passed out of the House Committee on Judicial Affairs on March 15, 1999, and that is currently before the House Committee on Local & Consent Calendars. H.B. 1477 will amend Texas Local Code to allow county or district courts to collect an assessment fee not over $35 against certain civil court filings. It is imperative that this fee be nominally raised from the current $20 to increase funding for Texas county law libraries.
The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) was founded in 1906 to promote and enhance the value of law libraries to the legal and public communities, to foster the profession of law librarianship, and to provide leadership in the field of legal information. Today, with over 4,800 members nationwide and nearly 220 members in the state of Texas, AALL represents law librarians and related professionals who are affiliated with a wide range of institutions, including law firms, law schools, corporate legal departments, courts, and state, court and county public law libraries.
The need to increase funding for Texas county law libraries is not a new issue before the Texas House of Representatives. In fact, we strongly supported H.B. 2573, under consideration in 1995 by the House Committee on County Affairs, that would have assessed a nominal fee on civil cases filed in small claims courts. That legislation unfortunately was not enacted, even though Texas county law libraries were then facing funding shortages.
In our April 18, 1995 letter to members of that committee and to members of the House Committee on Judicial Affairs, we emphasized that it is particularly imperative that legal information be easily and equitably available to the public so that all citizens have recourse to the judicial system. County law libraries have played a vital role in providing public access to legal information throughout the state of Texas while concurrently supporting the information needs of the judiciary and the legal community. The base for fees to support Texas county law libraries has steadily eroded over the past decade, and the last assessment increase, raising the fee from $10 to $20 for each civil case, was enacted back in 1987.
While that increase was intended to bring additional revenues into county law libraries, the opposite occurred and revenues dramatically declined. Twelve years later, Texas county law libraries need your support to correct this erosion and to strengthen public access to legal information for the citizens of your state.
Since 1987, when the last fee increase was approved, technology has changed the landscape for the creation and dissemination of information from both public and commercial sources in ways that we could not have imagined twelve years ago. The cost of acquiring books and other tangible legal materials for library collections has skyrocketed. And, contrary to the view held by some that the role of the Internet in providing public access to the ever growing array of electronic resources is less costly for libraries, in fact the opposite is true.
Law libraries must continue to purchase expensive print materials while at the same time purchasing an adequate number of computers to serve their constituencies--and these generally need to be replaced every two years-- plus software, telecommunications costs and much more to provide their patrons with the information they need. Passage of H.B. 1477 is long overdue and, we believe, critically necessary if county law libraries are to be able to provide continued high levels of services to the courts, attorneys and citizens of the state of Texas.
We commend you, Speaker Laney, for your welcoming comments on the Texas House of Representatives web site regarding the role of "part-time citizen-legislators who spend most of their time living and working among the people they represent -- listening to their ideas and understanding their needs and their hopes." We are pleased to note that you understand that these important citizen needs include locating and using electronic information, for you add that:
We have designed this site to make it easier for citizens to have access to information about the House, the legislation we consider and the laws we pass. We urge you to use this information to participate in the legislative process and help us to better represent you.
Improved funding for the county law libraries in Texas is critical in order to ensure that all citizens of the state of Texas have equitable and timely access to legal information, including the important legislative information which the Texas Legislature Online disseminates. We therefore urge your full support for H.B. 1477. In order to expedite its progress through the legislative process, we hope that we can count on your leadership to approve a date for the House to vote--as soon as possible--on this important legislation. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance. Thank you very much for your consideration in this very important matter.
Robert L. Oakley
American Association of Law Libraries
Washington Affairs Representative