A Bill that is bad for county law libraries.

Recently, two bills, S.F. 1113 and H.F. 1390 have passed through their respective committees, have been reconciled, and are now on the General Register.  This bill (the text of the bill is the same for both the House and the Senate) is brief, but will likely cause big trouble for county law libraries if passed.  How?  By allowing counties to divert money collected to support the law library to pay for court construction.  This bill directly contradicts the current statute, where law library fees can only be used in support of the law library.

Below is the text of the letter sent to Minnesota Senator Dan Hall, the chair of the Senate Committee that heard the bill. Individual members of MCCLL have sent personal letters to the legislators.  I urge you to do the same and support your county law library!

Other links of interest:

 

Re: H.F. 1390 & S.F.1113
Dear Senator Dan D. Hall:

The Minnesota Coalition of County Law Libraries is a non-profit organization. Part of our mission is to assist and act as an advisory body concerning all issues affecting county law libraries in Minnesota. Our organization consists of law librarians who work in county law libraries throughout Minnesota.

We are writing to encourage you to oppose H.F.1390 which would unnecessarily change Minn.Stat. § 134A to allow a county to appropriate up to $200,000 to pay for construction of new law library and court facilities. The proposed language is duplicative of the powers already vested with the law library board of trustees. Minn.Stat. § 134A.05 states in part: “[The board of trustees] shall have powers necessary for the governance and maintenance of the library, including, but not limited to the power to: “…purchase or lease books or library facilities with money from the county law library fund…” (emphasis added). In fact, the Wright County Law Library Board of Trustees voluntarily donated money to the county to help pay for new library construction in 2002. See, “Law Library Board Minutes, December 18, 2002,” attached for your review. It is not necessary to add the new language in H.F. 1390 in order to empower the law library board of trustees to help new law library construction because that authority already exists in Minn.Stat. § 134A.05.

There is additional confusion in the language of the proposed bill, as it is possible to interpret the language to allow law library funds to be used to build new court facilities. To do so would be in violation of the current statute Minn.Stat. § 134A.12 which states, in part, that law library fees are “to be allotted for the support of the library.” In 2007, the Minnesota State Auditor investigated Olmsted County regarding misappropriation of law library funds used to fund the Olmsted County Attorney’s Westlaw subscription. The auditor found that the Olmsted County Attorney’s Office had misappropriated the funds, and such funds were repaid. The ambiguous language of the proposed bill makes counties more likely to make financial mistakes by inadvertently misappropriating county law library funds.

H.F. 1390 allows the law library to transfer money to the county “to defray costs of construction a new building to house the law library and courts” (emphasis added). The County Law Library Board of Trustees can already make contributions to fund law library construction under Minn. Stat. 134A.05. This bill makes only one material change to the statute – law library funds could now pay for court construction. This new bill could open the door to the use of law library funds for non-library purposes.

We urge you to reject this bill.

If you have any further questions regarding this bill, please feel free to contact any of us.
Respectfully,

The Minnesota Coalition of County Law Libraries