"Nota Bene" means "note this well" or "take particular notice." We at the O'Quinn Law Library will be posting tips on legal research techniques and resources, developments in the world of legal information, happenings at the Law Library, and legal news reports that deserve your particular attention. We look forward to sharing our thoughts and findings and to hearing from you.

N.B: Make a note to visit "Nota Bene" regularly.

-Spencer L. Simons, former Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Good News/Bad News: Federal Edition

I've got some good news, and I've got some bad news.

First, the good news: The Government Printing Office's Federal Digital System (FDsys) recently added authenticated, digital copies of volumes 65-94 of the United States Statutes at Large, which covers 1951 through 1980 (the 82nd-96th Congresses). Previously, FDsys only had digital copies of volumes 117-121 of Statutes at Large, covering the 108th and 109th Congresses as well as the First Session of the 110th (2003-2007). To keep the good news flowing, according to an announcement posted to the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) Listserv, "Volumes 95-115, which spans from 1981 through 2002 (97th-107th Congresses) will continue to be added to FDsys in the coming weeks." In addition, all of the Statutes at Large volumes on FDsys are both browsable and searchable!

[Note: Not to be too confusing, but these newly added volumes are not found in the United States Statutes at Large collection, but in the Additional Government Publications collection.]

Now for the bad news: Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) have introduced a bill called "The Congressional Record Printing Savings Act of 2011". It calls for a reduction in the number of copies of the Congressional Record printed because "Print versions of the Congressional Record are costly and less relevant as we move towards more web based content."

Of course, one (of many) problems with this proposal is that the senators clearly do not understand the production (and purpose) of the Congressional Record. For example, in their press release announcing the bill, they claim that "The GPO annually spends over $8 million to print hard copies of the Congressional Record that are rarely used since these documents have been digitally available since 1994. Approximately 4,551 copies of the Congressional Record are printed daily . . ." (emphasis added). Then, in their additional background "factsheet", they estimate that only 111 copies would be needed for archival purposes (which approximates to the number of possible Regional Depository Libraries under the FDLP plus a few additional copies, although they do not explain how they came up with this number).

But this raises several questions: Does this bill deal only with the Daily Edition of the Congressional Record? What about the Bound Edition? (And which is the "official" version anyway? Most sources assume that, once published, the Bound Edition becomes the "official" version, especially since the text of the Daily Edition can be revised before it is published in the Bound Edition. See, e.g., The Bluebook, r. 13.5, at 130 (19th ed. 2010).) Considering that, except for three years where the Bound Edition is also available, FDsys only provides digital copies of the Daily Edition (even when the Bound Edition is available in print, probably because they don't have the resources to update the links or have just forgotten about them), what effect will this bill have on the Bound Edition?

The proposed bill would mainly effect four sections of the United States Code dealing with the Congressional Record. The amendment to 44 U.S.C. § 903 is negligible, and the deletion of 44 U.S.C. § 909 (which deals with providing a copy of the Congressional Record to Canada in exchange for a copy of their Parliamentary Hansard) is, most likely, not newsworthy (although it may not be good form and clearly would have little impact on cost-cutting). However, the other two affected sections deserve some attention.

44 U.S.C. § 906 deals with the gratuitous copies furnished directly to Congress and other entities of the federal government, and when they say "gratuitous", they mean "gratuitous"! Although I'm sure there was a purpose for it at one time, I do not understand why the Vice President would need, free of charge, 100 copies of the Daily Edition of the Congressional Record! I will agree with the good senators that this section is badly in need of amendment. And I don't have a problem with their proposed § 906(c), which mandates that the Congressional Record be made available electronically so anyone can view, download, and print it (presumably for free). But requiring the Public Printer to "determine the minimum number of copies . . . that are necessary . . . for archival purposes" (proposed § 906(a)(1)), and then print no more than that minimum number (proposed § 906(b)) is going too far! Surely, copies could be sold to interested parties, right?

Not if Sens. Coburn and Kohl get their way: Their bill calls for deleting 44 U.S.C. § 910, which currently allows the Public Printer to sell subscriptions to the Daily Edition and sell "current, individual numbers, and bound sets of the Congressional Record." This current section also requires that the cost be "based upon the cost of printing and distribution", which means the federal government should not be losing money on these sales. Wouldn't it be better for the country for Congress to strip down the gratuitous copies contained in current § 906 and require the Public Printer to raise the cost of subscriptions enough to make up the costs of any necessary gratuitous copies? And that was just one idea that just came to me! If truly necessary, I'm sure other, more intelligent people than I can come up with even better ideas to solve this problem (whatever the problem is). Clearly, the motives behind this bill go beyond merely cost-cutting.

For more information about the Congressional Record, see An Overview of the Congressional Record and Its Predecessor Publications, by Richard J. McKinney (2002, revised Jan. 2010).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Little Admin. Law Exercise

Last week USA Today reported that, to acknowledge the increasing size of an average American, the Federal Transit Authority proposes to raise the assumed average weight per bus passenger from 150 pounds to 175 pounds. We all know that news reports are secondary sources. To find the primary source for this news, how about using the Federal Register on the Government Printing Office's FDsys site? It is official and it is FREE. FDsys has its own search engine right at the center of its homepage. Searching for the proposed rule gives us the opportunity to test its Advanced Search feature with the following earch keys:

Date is after March 1, 2011

Avaliable Collections is Federal Register

Search in Full Text of Publications and Metadata for Average Passenger Weight

And the first of the 5 items retrieved is the one. Not bad at all. The search engine has additional features. But that will be another test for another day.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Library Dog to the Rescue

No, no. Not in O'Quinn. It happens in Yale, although it is a three-day trial for the time being. Monty the dog is supposed to be therapeutic for stressed-out law students. For the source of the story please click here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Legislative Redistricting

This week the U.S. Census Bureau released the 2010 Census population totals and demographic characteristics for communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. This data is used by the states to reconfigure congressional and state legislative districts due to population shifts since the 2000 Census. The Census website provides a Redistricting Data section including a guide to the data, redistricting maps, and redistricting data files for every state.

According to the data brief, Texas was the fifth fastest-growing state with a 20.6 percent population increase. In addition, Houston remains the fourth most populous incorporated place with 2,099,451 residents (an increase of 7.5 percent) and Harris County is the third largest county with 4,092,459 residents (an increase of 20.3 percent). The Texas Legislative Council’s Texas Redistricting website has more information about redistricting in Texas including information about its history, the legal requirements, the process, a timeline for the current redistricting cycle, and recent news and developments.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Implementation of the Health Care Reform Law

This month marks one year since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148) and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-152). Not long after their passage, the Department of Health and Human Services launched Healthcare.gov to help people understand the new law. It provides an overview of the law, a timeline chronicling what is changing and when, and information for consumers about insurance options, preventative services, and health care quality.

Provisions of the health law also require the states to take action, but keeping up with all of the measures in each state can be difficult. To help, the National Conference of State Legislatures recently created a database to track the relevant actions of the states. The database currently includes pending, failed, and enacted bills and resolutions from 2011 on topics such as Medicaid, the health insurance exchanges, health insurance reform, and health information technology. In addition, the database provides information about state bills that oppose, opt out, or differ from portions of the federal law. The website has a separate section for 2010 legislation.

To keep up with other recent developments and news regarding the health reform law, you can also look to the Kaiser Family Foundation Health Reform Source website or the New York Times Health Care Reform page.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Supreme Court Database

The Supreme Court Database, begun over 20 years ago by Professor Harold J. Spaeth, is a highly useful resource when conducting research about Court activities. It currently covers cases from the 1953 term forward, but the contributors hope to be able to include data for every decision since the Court's first case in 1792. It is usually updated 4 times per year.

There are 247 information variables for each case, and the Documentation portion of the database explains their design and how they are used.
In the database's Analysis section, you can search by case citation, name, or docket if you are only looking for information about a single case. For multiple cases, use the section's very detailed Set Data Parameters form, which allows searching to be tailored through a large number of options: Time/Era (restrict to a certain range of terms or particular Court personnel), Case Components (decision type, issues, legal provisions), Case Outcome, Proceedings Below, Parties, and Justice/Voting (vote type, which Justice wrote the majority opinion, etc.).
The results pages include graphs that display an overview of the search results, issue frequency and distribution, case details, and other information.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Global Legal Information Network (GLIN)

The Global Legal Information Network is a cooperative, not-for-profit federation of governments and international organizations that contribute official full-text documents to an online database. The documents, available in PDF, comprise four categories of information: statutory information, judicial decisions, legislative records, and legal writings. Most of the documents can be accessed by the public for free, though some are restricted to GLIN members. The "About GLIN" tab in the upper right hand corner of the database will link to a listing of the database's contents - this outlines what types of materials are available from each participating member, the date ranges of that content, and whether or not public access is permitted.

The database has several basic and advanced search options, and includes a subject term index that you can use to narrow your search results. Each document contains a detailed item record with information in English, but the document itself may not be available in English, unless English is one of the official languages of that particular country.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nuclear Energy in the United States

This week’s devastating news from Japan has brought nuclear power on the front pages and raises the question of the status of nuclear energy is in the United States. 

In the U.S. commercial nuclear power plants and other uses of nuclear materials, such as in nuclear medicine, through licensing, inspection and enforcement of its requirements are regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC was created as an independent agency by Congress in 1974 to enable the nation to safely use radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while ensuring that people and the environment are protected.

On its website the NRC not only allows access to information about any operating reactors, but as well the status of applications for new reactors, radioactive waste disposal sites and how the NRC ensures safeguards and security by regulating licensees' (a) accounting systems for special nuclear and source materials and (b) security programs and contingency plans.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sunshine Week - March 13-19

Happy Sunshine Week, everybody! "What's 'Sunshine Week'?", you're asking. To be honest, I didn't know about it either, but I should. We all should.

According to its official website, "Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information." Spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors, Sunshine Week is all about the public's right to know and the freedom of information.

The website offers quite a bit of information and offers tips on how to "celebrate government transparency." One of the offerings will take place this Friday, March 18th. At noon ET, OpenTheGovernment.org will host a webcast called "The Road Forward on Open Government" at which, "transparency" experts will discuss various aspects of these issues and take questions from a live audience as well as online participants. For more information about this webcast, go to the OpenTheGovernment.org website.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Health statistics and where to find them

Conducting empirical research in the area of health law? Check out the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The NCHS is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and considered the Nation's principal health statistics agency. The Center is a public resource for health information with the main purpose to compile statistical information to guide actions and public health policies.

The website allows access to the NCHS factsheets through the so-called “FastStats” site, covering the wide range of information and data made available by the NCHS; “data briefs”, statistical publications that provide information about current public health topics, and the Center’s extensive library of online and print publications. 

In addition two links are worth mentioning – one that leads to the data systems and surveys where it is possible to retrieve data that is being collected on an ongoing basis, and another one named “librarians”. The so-called “resources for librarians” is a sub site that conveniently lists numerous resources, for example tutorials, which guide you through preparing an analytic dataset, and explaining the nuances of the survey design, medical coding classifications, listservs and the Research Data Center (RDC).            

The RDC website was developed by the NCHS with the goal to allow researchers access to data that does not appear in the public use files of data collected by the Center. Restricted variables are those that could compromise the confidentiality of survey respondents like geography, genetic data, and detailed race/ethnicity, and access to this data requires the researcher to submit a proposal to the RDC and comply with the process.  

Friday, March 4, 2011

Texas Supreme Court to Require Attorneys to E-file Documents

There are a growing number of state courts that now require electronic filing of petitions, briefs, responses, and other documents. According to a posting on the Tex Parte Blog , the Texas Supreme Court will soon require attorneys to file all court documents electronically beginning March 14, 2011 and issued the rules on March 1, 2011. The article points out that this is already done in some of the state district courts in Texas, but unlike with these courts, the attorneys will need to send two paper copies when they upload the documents.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Internal Revenue Service: Practice and Procedure Deskbook

Tax procedure is without a doubt one of the most problematic but important areas in the tax field. The Practising Law Institute (PLI) publishes the Internal Revenue Service Practice and Procedure Deskbook, 4th ed. by Erin M. Collins & Edward M. Robbins, Jr., which provides the details on every major aspect on tax procedure such as examinations pertaining to individuals and businesses, assessments and collections of tax owed, investigation issues such as statute of limitations, IRS appeals, and tax litigation. This two volume looseleaf set is a wealth of information for attorneys who are practicing in the field as well as J.D. or Graduate Tax Students. The law library has this source in it's print collection (KF6301.S5222).