April 29, 2003
Doug White, President
#201 Second Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215
Dear Senator White:
I am writing today to express the concern of the American Association of Law Libraries and its Ohio members about a proposal now before the Ohio state legislature that would seriously undermine a fundamental tenet of American democracy.
The American Association of Law Libraries is an organization of approximately 5,000 members who work to meet the legal and government information needs of legislators and judges, law students and faculty, lawyers, and ordinary citizens and pro se litigants who have a need to know the law. Because low cost access to legal and governmental information is so important to our members and their clients, AALL is particularly concerned about proposals that would raise the cost of legal and governmental information and with it raise the cost of access to justice.
Public access to legal and government information is part of the bedrock of our society. To ensure both equal access to the law and openness and transparency in the workings of our governments at all levels, American citizens have a basic right to obtain information about what their government is doing on their behalf. This important principle is manifested in many ways, including state and federal freedom of information laws, the federal depository library program, and the clear trend to making more and more government information publicly accessible over the internet. This principle is threatened in Ohio, however, by a proposal currently embedded in the budget bill pending before the Ohio state legislature.
Under the Electronic Government Services Act, which was first proposed last year as HB 482 and is now embedded in the budget bill, HB 95, at pp. 255-264, lines 7892-8158, state agencies, except the Supreme Court and the state legislature, would be prohibited from making state information available if two commercial companies made the same information available. This proposal would limit access to important government information only to those who can afford to pay. That is fundamentally wrong. It also runs contrary to the trend in every other state and the federal government to make more information available over the Internet. In our society, information is a basic service of government, one which the citizens - the voters - both need and appreciate.
AALL and its Ohio members believe that the E-Government proposal is extremely controversial and detrimental to the citizens of the state of Ohio. We are also concerned about the process by which this important proposal is being pushed through the state legislature. By burying it in the budget bill, it is less likely to be noticed and less likely to be debated by members of the legislature and the affected citizens of the state. We urge you to immediately remove the Electronic Government Services Act from the budget bill and table it for this year.
Robert L. Oakley
Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries