A Bill that is still bad for County Law Libraries – an update

In a recent issue of the Minnesota Lawyer Kevin Featherly wrote an article about Legislative Intent – what did legislators really mean when they enacted some new legislation.  And as part of his article, he wrote about S.F. 1113.

After talking with Ellen Jaquette, reference librarian with the Minnesota Historical Society, she mentioned that the “juiciest” historical resource that researchers can use are the audio recordings of committee hearings.

Mr. Featherly then wrote:

Pauline Afuso, Washington County’s law librarian, went directly to the audiotapes when trying to determine the purpose of a bill that she fears might impact her library and others across the state.

Her issue is over Senate File 1113 and its identical companion, House File 1390. The bill passed the Senate on March 20 by a unanimous 64-0 vote. It received its second reading on the House floor March 23.

The legislation says that if a law library has reserves big enough to sustain operations for five years, it can transfer half of that money, up to $200,000, to county government. The cash then can be used in “constructing a new building to house the law library and courts,” the bill says.

Those last two words — “and courts” — were a flashing red warning sign for Afuso. “Why is that in there?” she said. “Why would we want to spend money to go and build a court?” She went to legislative committee-meeting audio tapes to find out if that is what the law intended. She thinks she found it in March 2 testimony from the House bill’s author, Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River.

Zerwas told House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee members that his was “a local bill having only to do with Sherburne County.” The county, he explained, is remodeling and expanding its government operations center and the bill would allow the library to dedicate funds toward that project.

But its impact could span far beyond Sherburne County, Afuso insists. Whether intended or not, she thinks it might allow any county to divert money raised to support law libraries toward court-related capital projects, she said. That is not what the money is for, she said.

“Why not just say that a law library can donate money if it wants to and then leave it up to the discretion of the board of trustees?” she said. “Why is it saying all these weird things?”

***

As of April 25, this bill is still on the General Register.  There is still time for you to contact your representatives and ask that they reject this bill.

Thanks to the Minnesota Lawyer for allowing us to publish this excerpt of the article, “Legislative intent remains go-to research resource,” by Kevin Featherly, printed online on April 19, 2017 at http://minnlawyer.com/2017/04/19/legislative-intent-remains-go-to-research-resource/, and in the print edition of Minnesota Lawyer, published on April 20, 2017, p. 1, at pg. 24.

 

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

Legislation

Legislation that could impact MN County Law Libraries:

There is proposed legislation that could divert funds from Law Library surpluses to courts. 

See HF3648 https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin/bldbill.php?bill=H3648.0.html&session=ls86

Looks like the funds would be for general facilities: 

See

Minn. Stat. 484.77 FACILITIES.

The county board in each county shall provide suitable facilities for court purposes at the county seat, or at other locations agreed upon by the district court and the county. The county shall also be responsible for the costs of renting, maintaining, operating, remodeling, insuring, and renovating those facilities occupied by the court. The county board and the district court must mutually agree upon relocation, renovation, new construction, and remodeling decisions related to court facility needs. The state court administrator shall convene court and county representatives who shall develop written model guidelines for facilities that may be adopted in each county.