New ideas in Congress for supporting libraries

Support for libraries figured in several bills that were recently introduced in Congress immediately prior to the August recess. Introduction of these bills with the inclusion of library provisions demonstrates that libraries are increasingly on the top-of-mind in Congress.

The outlook for these bills, however, is uncertain. None of the bill authors sit on the committees of jurisdiction considering the legislation which often dims the chances of passage. In addition, two of the bills would create new funding streams, an uphill battle in the current congressional atmosphere. Nevertheless, we are pleased to see libraries thoughtfully included in relevant legislation.Congressional negotiators will be burning the midnight oils over the weekend to craft a final bill.

The three bills introduced this month are:

  • Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced S. 1674, the School Building Improvement Act of 2017, which would authorize as much as $52 million in bonds for school renovation, repair and construction projects at elementary and secondary schools. The bill explicitly would allow the funds to be used for school library projects. S. 1674 will be considered by the Senate Finance Committee.
  • Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced S. 1689, the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, which encourages states to focus drug enforcement strategies away from marijuana. S. 1689 would also re-direct certain funds used by states to enforce laws against marijuana use into a new Community Reinvestment Fund. This fund, authorized up to $500 million per year, would allow the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide community grants for programs, including public libraries, job training, reentry services and other services. S. 1689 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced S. 1694 and Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) introduced the House companion H.R. 3636. The bills, entitled Educator Preparation Reform Act, would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 by expanding the definition of an “educator” eligible to receive job training and development to include school librarians, counselors, and paraprofessionals. In addition, under H.R. 3636, librarians would be eligible to receive specialized training to implement reading and writing instruction. S. 1694 will be considered by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. H.R. 3636 will be considered by the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Our efforts to encourage members of Congress to “think libraries” appear to be bearing fruit. If these bills gain traction, we will work with these Congressional offices to ensure the library message continues to be heard.

About Kevin Maher

Kevin Maher is the assistant director of the American Library Association's Office of Government Relations.

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