Washington Brief - February 2006

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By Mary Alice Baish

Dateline: December 14, 2005

As the first session of the 109th Congress comes to a close, there are many important ongoing legislative activities, described below, that will carry over into the New Year. In addition, the FY 2007 appropriations process will begin with the release of the President's budge on February 6th. Since a substantial portion of the federal budget has been earmarked for the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense the past several years, we anticipate it may be challenging to get the full funding requests for the Federal Depository Library Program and the Law Library of Congress in FY 2007.

During the past year, the AALL grassroots community has responded in great numbers to our Action Alerts on the Reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act and GPO's plan to eliminate the distribution of core legal titles in print to depository libraries. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank each of you who during the past year contacted your elected representatives in Washington in response to our calls for action. All politics is local and your participation in our advocacy work clearly made a huge difference! Since advocacy is one of AALL's new Strategic Directions, the Government Relations Committee and the Washington Office will be working even harder to engage more of you in our important policy work. One of the first things you might consider doing is to join the AALL Advocacy listserv—you'll find a quick link to the subscription form at, www.ll.georgetown.edu/aallwash/. Your help will be needed more than ever before in 2006, so please stay tuned!

Reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act
As Claire Germaine has noted in her column this month, the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act's sixteen provisions due to expire at the end of December 2005 was stalled by a small bipartisan contingent of senators who want the bill to reflect a better balance between government surveillance and protection of civil liberties. The first conference report agreed to by conferees was derailed before the Thanksgiving recess when six senators—Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), Sen. John E. Sununu (R-NH), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO)—threatened a filibuster unless several changes were made to protect civil liberties, including a shorter sunset for the Sec. 215 provision on business records. The second conference report released right before the December recess had some slight improvements but failed to provide the necessary standards for law enforcement's use of "national security letters" to prevent their abuse. With the clock ticking and members of Congress anxious to head home for the holiday recess, the filibuster threat kept the reauthorization bill from reaching the Senate floor, and conferees hurriedly agreed to extend the Act to February 3rd. The Senate reconvenes on January 18th and the House on the 31st, giving lawmakers little time to negotiate the most contentious provisions before the new deadline. I'd like to join Claire in thanking you for your tremendous response to our action alerts on this issue during the past year. Well done!

Support for Open Document Format
AALL joined ALA, ARL, SLA and MLA in sending a letter to officials in Massachusetts urging the Commonwealth to adopt the Open Document Format (ODF) for all electronic documents created by the executive branch. The standard, recommended by the Secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, would be required by the end of 2006. Microsoft has been lobbying hard to prevent its adoption. Digital technology has made libraries' preservation functions significantly more complicated. If government agencies create documents created in ODF, the information will remain accessible in the future because any programmer will be able to find its open, nonproprietary specifications. It will be significantly easier for libraries to ensure that patrons 100 years from now will be able to read these historically important documents. If ODF is adopted in the Commonwealth, we hope to encourage other states to follow Massachusetts' lead to ensure that their citizens maintain the ability to access critical government information in the future. You'll find our letter at: www.ll.georgetown.edu/aallwash/ ODFMassachusettsTrimarcoDec05.pdf

The Community Broadband Act of 2005
Last summer, AALL joined an informal community broadband coalition seeking to promote universal, affordable Internet access for all Americans and to help local governments respond to disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Many municipalities have already implemented community broadband networks, and most recently, the City of New Orleans announced a program to provide free wireless to help revitalize the local economy. The coalition supports S. 1294, the Community Broadband Act of 2005, introduced by Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ) and John McCain (R-AZ). We may be calling on you to help us get additional cosponsors before the Senate Commerce Committee holds its first hearing on February 14th. For more information, please read our December 13th letter that was sent to all members of the Senate, at (www.ll.georgetown.edu/aallwash/ CBCSenCoalLetter1205.pdf)

Opposition to BARDA
Sen. Burr (R-NC) introduced S. 1873, the Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act (BARDA), to create a new agency at HHS to fight bioterrorism. The agency would be totally exempt from FOIA and some provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The purpose of the new agency is to facilitate research vaccines and drug treatments on avian flu, anthrax, etc, and the bill's sponsors want to protect proprietary information and "sensitive" research information. Open government advocates have strongly opposed the measure and have successfully sidetracked its enactment this year. Our position is that current law—both FOIA and FACA—are more than adequate to protect both categories of scientific research they want to safeguard. Sen. Burr's staff seems willing to work with our community to fix the problem and negotiations are underway.

March 13th Sunshine Week Teleconference—
Are We Safer in the Dark?

It's not too late to be a host site for a national teleconference celebrating Sunshine Week to be held from 1-2:30 pm EST on March 13, 2006—Are We Safer in the Dark? A National Dialogue on Open Government and Secrecy Teleconference. Sponsored by AALL, OpentheGovernment.org, the American Library Association and other open government groups, our goal is to raise awareness of the importance of open government to everyone in your community. A national panel of experts will discuss open government and secrecy—the problems we're facing with it, how it impacts communities and what the public can do about it. We'll be looking specifically at how the government's power to keep secrets has grown over the past few years and how the secret keepers wield that power in the courts, Congress and the executive branch, undermining oversight and open public debate of controversial issues. We're also encouraging locally sponsored programs after the national teleconference to discuss how communities can keep all levels of government open. If you're interested in either hosting the teleconference at your institution or you would like to check to see if it's being sponsored in your area, you'll find the link to more information and the site registration form at, www.ll.georgetown.edu/aallwash/.


Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative
Edward B. WIlliams Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-1417
202/662-9200 * FAX:202/662-9202
email:baish@law.georgetown.edu

 


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