ARCHIVED: Legislative and Regulatory Update - August 26, 1997

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Dateline: August 26, 1997

While members of Congress enjoy their annual summer recess, the month of August is generally the only catch-up time for Bob and myself to prepare for the fall onslaught of harried activity before the October break for elections. This year is an exception, though, as legislative activity has been humming along at a fast clip throughout the summer. The following issues are keeping us busy this month, and will require close monitoring when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day.

Legislative Branch Appropriations FY 1998

In a twist from recent history, on July 28, 1997 the House Appropriations Committee passed the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act for FY 1998 of $1.7 billion (H.R. 2209, House Rept. 105-196) that provides higher funding levels for the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office than does the bill passed with amendments by the Senate. Among highlights of the bill, the House approved $1.7 M to initiate LC's Integrated Management System, and provided adequate funding for the Congressional Research Service and the Copyright Office. The Senate's package of $1.5 billion, while supporting both agencies with slightly lower appropriations, also ends the distribution of the bound Congressional Record to members of Congress. This is another blow to our attempts to find congressional support for the bound Congressional Record and the Serial Set. Conferees will meet in September and our lobbying efforts will continue at that time.

Oakley Submits Amicus Brief in Support of Equal Remote Access
to Court System

Our Washington Affairs Office Web site attracts a wide range of visitors beyond members of AALL and the broader library community. In June, we received a call from a pro se attorney in Massachusetts who was frustrated by his inability to have remote access to the electronic system of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. This is a valid issue for AALL as our Government Relations Policy clearly states that equitable access to government information is an essential component of our democratic society. In an amicus brief in support of plaintiff Ross E. Mitchell, submitted by Bob Oakley on July 31, 1997 to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Oakley asked that the Court amend its rules to provide equal access for all parties who have business before the Court. Thus the system would be available remotely to attorneys and pro se litigants on an equal basis.

Report of the Judicial Conference's Committee on
Automation and Technology Disappointing

In a July 24, 1997 letter to Bob Oakley, Edward Nottingham, Chair of the Judicial Conference's Subcommittee on Policy and Programs that held the April hearing on the ABA recommendation for the medium neutral citation system, the subcommittee questions whether the Judicial Conference has the power to mandate that all federal courts adopt the specific elements of the ABA proposal. In addition, the letter raises concerns that "the proposal inevitably enmeshes the judiciary in competition among private interests currently engaged in disseminating federal judicial opinions." The subcommittee does, however, propose an alternative approach, that of creating and maintaining a publicly-accessible central database of federal opinions. This raises all sorts of questions about costs, responsibility for its creation and maintenance, and numerous technological questions concerning citation format. The subcommittee recommends finding answers to this questions and developing a plan of action.

AOUSC Compliance with the Proposed Revisions to Title 44

Bob Oakley and I met with Judge Royce Lamberth, U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia who twice has provided congressional testimony for the Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AO) before Senate Rules hearings on public access to government information. Two representatives from the AO, John Hehman and Gary Bowden, were also present. While recognizing the independence of the courts, we stressed the importance of public access to judicial branch information and suggested some immediate steps in this direction: access to the PACER system for depository libraries and the development of formal agreements between the AO and the law school consortium who voluntarily provide Internet access to appellate court opinions. JCP Staff Director Eric Peterson, guest speaker at the GRC's annual Legislative and Regulatory Update in Baltimore, has not yet met with representatives from the AO to discuss the JCP draft legislation revising Title 44. He has expressed confidence that allowing the AO to determine regulations and standards for the publication of judicial branch information will be an incentive for compliance with the provisions of a revised Title 44.

WIPO Implementing Legislation Advancing

As expected, we are beginning to see the Administration's proposals for legislation implementing the WIPO copyright treaties. President Clinton sent the two WIPO treaties to the Committee on Foreign Relations in late July, along with implementing legislation, H.R. 2281 and S. 1121. They have been referred to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. This bill contains the same basic problem areas of the White Paper proposal that were strongly opposed by the library community and the Digital Future Coalition during the 104th Congress. On another front, Rep. Howard Coble, Chairman of the House Judiciary's Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee, introduced H.R. 2180, the "On-Line Copyright Liability Limitation Act," on July 17, 1997. This bill offers some improvements over last year's attempts to hold on-line service providers liable for copyright infringement by subscribers. Bob will present testimony on this bill on behalf of national library and education organizations at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 4th.

TWO QUICK BYTES

JCP Staff Director Eric Peterson will meet with the Inter- Association Working Group on Title 44 on August 28th, at which time he will share the latest version of the JCP bill to revise Title 44. We are anxious to learn how our chapter 19 proposal creating a new Federal Information Access Program fares in this latest revision.

 

President Clinton has recently nominated FCC General Counsel William Kennard to be the new Commissioner for the Federal Communications Commission, replacing Reed Hunt. Hunt had strongly supported low-cost Internet access for schools and libraries to the tune of $2.25 billion annually. The May FCC ruling mandating discounted rates for libraries and schools has been challenged in the courts by SBC Communications, Inc. that owns Southwestern Bell and Pacific Telesis. In addition, Congressional conferees on the balanced budget agreement came up with a smoke and mirrors approach in which universal service funds would be used to help balance the budget in 2001-2002. Congressional supporters of universal service funding promise to prevent any future reoccurrence of this unfortunate development.

 


Mary Alice Baish
Assistant Washington Affairs Representative
Georgetown University Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
202/662-9200 *FAX:202/662-9202
email:baish@law.georgetown.edu