Category Archives: Legislation & Regs

CRS Reports Now Available to the Public

By Eric Taylor, Evening & Weekend Reference Librarian

Once the exclusive province of Congress, the CRS Reports are now available to everyone.  Thoroughly researched and produced by the Congressional Research Service, the CRS Reports are nonpartisan briefing papers about current and emerging affairs of interest to members of Congress and their staffs.

The core mission of the Congressional Research Service, a legislative branch agency, is to provide “timely, objective, and authoritative research and analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate.”  Their reports support “Congress in its legislative, oversight, and representational duties.”  The wide range of topic areas for which CRS Reports have been produced include: constitutional questions, foreign affairs, agriculture and economic policy, science and technology, intelligence and national security, health care, education, immigration, transportation, and many others.

The year was 1914 when Senator Robert La Follette Sr. and Representative John M. Nelson, both of Wisconsin, championed a provision in the appropriations act establishing a special reference unit within the Library of Congress.  The new reference unit was based on Progressive Era ideas which promoted “the importance of the acquisition of knowledge for an informed and independent legislature.”  The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library, established in 1901, was built on the same concept that informed knowledge could serve the best interests of the state.

At various times in its history, reports such as the Public Affairs Bulletins (in the late 1940s) and Congressional Research Service Review (1980s) were made available to the public, but until very recently the vast majority of reports produced by the Congressional Research Service were available only to Congress.  The public, researchers, and advocates alike have long asked for these reports be made freely available.  The passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 last March did just that by directing the Library of Congress to make CRS Reports publicly available online.

“The publication directive specifically mandates that the public website is to be “updated contemporaneously, automatically, and electronically, to include each new or updated CRS report released on or after” the date on which the Library makes the website available for public access.”  The complete inventory of CRS Reports will be made available sometime in 2019.

Just click on the “Search” button to see what is available now.

News on the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau

A recent article from Madison’s local newspaper, The Isthmus, outlines some significant cuts to the staff and services of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, particularly in the LRB research and library services department.

For example, the article cites a reduction in the number of “plain language” reviews of laws or court cases from 27 in 2014 to 11 last year. The number of reports produced by the LRB has also fallen in recent years from 22 in 2014, 16 in 2015, 5 in 2016, 1 in 2017, and none so far in 2018.

See the article for more information about the cuts as well as a bit of history of the LRB in Wisconsin.

CRS Reports to be Made Publicly Available

Under a provision of the 2018 omnibus appropriations act that was passed by Congress and signed by the President earlier this month, all non-confidential Congressional Research Service  reports must be made publicly available online within 90 to 270 days.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is the non-partisan public policy research arm of the United States Congress.  They produce analytical, non-partisan reports on topics of interest to members of Congress.  Because of their high quality, CRS reports are excellent resources for legislative or public policy research.

Until now, there had been no comprehensive, official public online source that provided access to this government information.  Under the new policy,  approximately 3,000 non-classified reports will be released annually.

For more information, see these articles from Demand Progress, Federation of American Scientists, and Government Executive.

SEC Adopts Final Rules to Require Hyperlinks to Exhibits in Filings

This post was authored by Jenny Zook, Reference and Instructional Services Librarian at the UW Law School Library.

SEC has adopted a final rule requiring public companies to include hyperlinks in their exhibit index, making it easier for investors to locate previously filed exhibits. According to the SEC, there was overwhelming support for this final rule. Previous to the new rule, to locate a filing, investors had to find the exhibit index to a registrants SEC filings, which, more often than not, was incorporated by reference. Embedding a link directly to the filing is a common sense amendment to the disclosure rules that will speed up the process for investors.

For more information on the SEC ruling see Reuters: SEC adopts rules requiring hyperlinks for corporate exhibits.

For other resources and more information, also see Practical Law: SEC Adopts Final Rules to Require Hyperlinks to Exhibit in Filings

New Site Aims to Make Every CRS Report Publicly Available Online

If you’ve ever tried looking for a CRS Report, you know that they can be very difficult to track down.  A new site called everyCRSreport.com is hoping to make them more publicly accessible online.

Currently the site includes 8,260 CRS reports, although that number will change regularly.  It’s unclear what date range is covered by the site, although it does say that “if you’re looking for older reports, our good friends at CRSReports.com may have them.”

[update 10/27: Per @danielschuman at Demand Progress “the @EveryCRSReport website has all the reports currently available to congress. They can go back to the 90s, but not usually.”]

If you’re not familiar with CRS Reports, they are reports issued by the Congressional Research Service which is a legislative branch agency housed inside the Library of Congress.  These reports contain analytical, non-partisan information on topics of interest to members of Congress. 

Although the reports are works of the United States Government and not subject to copyright protection, the federal government has, thus far, not made them publicly available.  Numerous non profits and commercial vendors have been working to fill the gap.

According to the website, EveryCRSReport.com is a project of Demand Progress in collaboration with the Congressional Data Coalition — a bipartisan coalition founded by Demand Progress and the R Street Institute to promote open legislative information.

New Edition of Wisconsin Guide to Citation Now Available

The Wisconsin State Bar has recently published a newly updated edition of the Wisconsin Guide to Citation.

The new eighth edition reflects recent changes made to The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, now in its 20th edition. New developments discussed in this edition of the Wisconsin Guide include:

  • A new section on how to cite uniform acts, model codes, sentencing guidelines, and standards
  • New sections discussing how to cite blog and social media posts
  • Update to guidelines for citing sources on the Internet
  • Update regarding how to cite legal dictionaries
  • New examples showing how to cite various sources with different pincites

I’d like to thank Attorney-Editor Rita Knauss for offering me and my Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin colleagues the opportunity to comment and make suggestions for the new edition.

More information about the Guide, including information about how to order it, is available on the State Bar of Wisconsin website.

JFC Motion Would Severely Restrict Access to WI Drafting Records and other Legislative “Deliberative Materials”

Late last night, Wisconsin’s Joint Committee on Finance passed a motion (motion #999) to the Wisconsin state budget that would exempt “deliberative materials” like legislative drafting records and legislative briefings from Wisconsin’s open records laws.

From the Capital Times:

Included in the 24-page motion were five sections of proposed changes that would severely restrict access to the once-public records of the Legislature.

  • “Deliberative materials” would not be considered public records. Deliberative materials would include “communications, opinions, analyses, briefings, background information, recommendations, suggestions, drafts, correspondence about drafts, and notes, created or prepared in the process of reaching a decision concerning a policy or course of action or in the process of drafting a document or formulating an official communication.”

  • A legislator would have the right to refuse disclosure of a broad swath of communications and records.

  • All drafting files and records related to reference, drafting and research requests by the Legislative Reference Bureau would be confidential and closed to the public “at all times.”

  • No section of the state’s public records law that conflicts with a rule enacted by the Legislature could apply to a record.

  • The confidentiality requirements placed on nonpartisan legislative service agencies may not be used to prohibit an agency staff member from communicating with a staff member from another similar agency.

Drafting records are used frequently by lawyers, journalists, analysts, and by the public to gain insight into the process by which legislation is created, influenced, and passed.  Restricting access to this information would fundamentally limit the ability to conduct legislative research in Wisconsin.

The provisions, which are slated to take effect retroactively on July 1, the day before the motion was introduced and the start of the state’s fiscal year, have received harsh criticism by both left and right wing commentators.

For more, watch this video by the MacIver Institute.

The budget now moves to the full Legislature, with the Assembly scheduled to take up the budget bill on Wednesday of next week and the Senate scheduled to take it up as soon as Tuesday.

Good news! – See update from the Wisconsin State Journal, July 6th:

In the face of withering criticism, Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican leaders of the Legislature announced Saturday that a provision added to the state budget to gut the open records law “will be removed from the budget in its entirety.”

See more from the Capital Times on who was involved with the motion.

Track Federal Legislation with Congress.gov

Recently, Congress.gov launched several email alert services that allow you to track federal legislative information.

First, the legislation alert allows you to track action on a particular bill.  When viewing a bill in Congress.gov, click on the “Get alerts” link under the title to set up your alert.

Next, you can get an alert when a specific Member of Congress (from the current Congress) has either sponsored or cosponsored legislation.  To set up this alert, go to the member’s page and select “Get alerts” from the menu at the far right.

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Finally, you can also receive an alert when a new issue of the Congressional Record is available on Congress.gov.  To set this up, click on “Get alerts” at the far right on the CR page.

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For more information on setting up these alerts, see In Custodia Legis from the Law Librarians of Congress.

Info on the New Session of the Wisconsin Legislature

Eileen Snyder of the Wisconsin Historical Society has put together a useful post on the new session of the Wisconsin Legislature.

It includes information such as a list of state officers, salaries of state elected officials, a guide to the legislative process, and budget and informational papers.  It also includes a link to the 2015-16 Wisconsin Legislator Briefing Book which provides background on policy areas, the budget process, legislative service agencies, and other information on Wisconsin government.