This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, March 11, 1998

March 11, 1998 - Testifying at the Legislature

Recently I spent most of an afternoon sitting in a Colorado House Committee hearing.

Under consideration was a bill concerning the Internet (Senate Bill 49). The bill’s intent -- at one point, anyhow -- was to forbid any kind of Colorado government from taxing or placing any other fees or charges on business conducted over the World Wide Web. Denver is one of the “hot spots” right now for Internet providers. The bill’s sponsor believes that if we don’t hold off on taxes and charges, we’ll stifle this fledgling industry. Some industry observers predict that by the year 2000, as much as $372 billion dollars of sales will be conducted over the ’net. It’s in Colorado’s interest to encourage such growth in the state.

Librarians got interested in this because some of us use a service called Uncover. Uncover allows library patrons to search for various magazine and newspapers articles. That part of the service is free. But if the patron requests delivery of the text of the article -- either to a computer screen, to a fax, or to a regular mailbox -- Uncover charges a fee, part of which covers copyrights costs, part of which keeps Uncover in business.

What some libraries do is pay for the delivery, then recover the cost from the patron. If the bill had passed in its original form, most libraries would simply have stopped providing the service. They couldn’t afford it. I went to the hearing to explain all that.

The day before the hearing, I heard that an amended version of the bill exempted publicly-funded libraries, expressly permitting such “pass through” charges. But such things change.

In fact, the whole bill changed. The version considered by the committee just prohibited state, county, municipal or other districts from taxing Internet access subscriptions -- such as an America Online account.

After testimony (AGAINST by the Colorado Municipal League, and FOR by US West), the bill was approved by the committee. Having already passed the Senate, the bill now goes to the House. Because the law really didn’t affect libraries at all anymore, I never did have to speak.

So on the one hand, I wasted a whole afternoon. On the other hand, I got a closer look at just how laws come into being.

It’s sobering. One line in one bill can have sweeping and often wholly unsuspected consequences. Based on my observations to date, most legislators really do want to pass good laws, hence the whole elaborate process for allowing interested parties to speak about how a particular law might affect them. Legislators need such information.

But what’s most impressive about the process is how open it all is. You want a copy of a bill? It’s free, on paper across the street from the Capitol, or electronically from the State (http://www.state.co.us/gov_dir/stateleg.html). You want to know the status of a bill (which committee it’s in, when it’s scheduled for the next action)? That’s all freely available in several formats, too.

You want to sit in on the deliberations? Pull up a chair!

You have something to say about a bill? Sign up for some time, and all you have to do is speak concisely and politely. Most people do, too.

This openness, of course, carries over to public libraries. Perhaps the defining characteristic of our county is the average citizen’s extraordinary access to information about almost everything.

But just as a book does no good if no one reads it, government does no good if real citizens never get involved.

If you’re interested in knowing more about what YOUR representatives are doing, a good place to start is the Douglas Public Library District’s web site, “Making Democracy Work". Developed in cooperation with the Douglas County League of Women Voters, the web pages link to remarkably comprehensive and current information.

The framers of our Constitution envisioned an “informed electorate.” It takes some work -- but it’s worth it.

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