MLA Advocacy - February 26, 2015

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IRS and the Missing Tax Forms
While we patiently await some sign of spring or at least an end to the Arctic chill, I know many library professionals have been helping to prepare a mostly unhappy lot of taxpayers for another upcoming season—tax season.

Thank you to the dozens of libraries responding to a request for your experiences with the IRS tax forms this year. I received many compelling and thoughtful stories outlining the challenges in trying to serve patrons with a vastly inadequate supply of forms. As is often the case, those most vulnerable, the elderly, low income, as well as those without access to Internet service are suffering the most.

Overwhelmingly, patrons who depend on the library for their forms and assistance are faced with the fact that the IRS decided to save money on forms at their expense and at our libraries’ expense. While many people understand it was not the library’s fault, an equal number are blaming or expressing their displeasure at library staff.

Carrie Brueck, Library Director at Nottawa Township Library summed it up perfectly.

“We are one of the many libraries affected by the lack of tax form distribution this year.  Living in a rural community many of our patrons do not have internet access, other than at the public library.  Many residents requesting tax forms are elderly customers who struggle with their knowledge and ability regarding computer use.  A stressful and overwhelming requirement (filing taxes), has become even more difficult and cumbersome for these individuals. Sharing in their frustration, our library staff has fielded complaint after complaint and aided many disgruntled patrons in their search for information.  The decrease in tax form distribution has been a huge disservice on the part of the IRS toward the patronage we serve.”

Senator Gary Peters’ office contacted MLA offering his assistance with the tax form problems our libraries are facing. I am in contact with his office. I shared your stories and have requested his intervention. I am hopeful we will see some remedy soon. It may be too late for this year, but perhaps we can prevent a reoccurrence next tax season.

FOIA
Changes to the Freedom of Information Act take effect on July 1, 2015. The new law restricts what fees may be charged and provides new penalties for violations. MLA worked with municipalities and others educating legislators about the impact of potential changes to FOIA. Fortunately, not all of the proposed amendments were passed into law. However, a number of changes were enacted. As a result, MLA and the Coop Directors Association are working together to offer a seminar to help you learn more about how these changes will affect your library. This session will be located in Lansing for a nominal charge. The date will likely be in April, and details are in the works.

Governor's Budget Recommendation Includes Increases for Libraries
Governor Snyder has recommended a $1 million increase in State Aid to Libraries for fiscal year 2015/16 along with an additional $600,000 for Renaissance Zone Reimbursements and $2.2 million for MPSERS (retirement funding for participating libraries). Senator Jim Stamas (R-Midland), a strong library supporter, was instrumental in facilitating the increases.

This is good news in light of the lower net revenue numbers coming out of the state’s recent estimating conference. Net general fund revenues for the 2016 fiscal year are now projected to come in $532 million lower than officials earlier estimated.

State officials attribute the downturn to a recent surge in corporations cashing in old Michigan Business Tax credits that were issued as economic development incentives.
MLA and GCSI lobbyists will be meeting with key legislators to discuss the library budget. Remember, this is just the first step in the budget process. Both chambers will present their recommendations and the final budget comes from a consensus of the three recommendations.

Early Literacy Efforts
MLA is asking the administration to include a librarian on the governor's commission to improve third grade reading. We all know that reading success starts early and Michigan’s libraries provide early literacy classes to more than 150,000 Michigan preschoolers every year. They teach the importance of reading as well as encouraging a love of reading all the while helping kids get ready to learn. The Governor’s recent budget recommendation specifically mentions libraries and early literacy.

Amendment to the District Library Establishment Act
Senate Bill 108 was referred out of the Senate Committee on Local Government this week and now goes to the full Senate. The legislation removes the sunset for establishing a district library with a school district. Last year GCSI and MLA worked closely with legislative leadership to accelerate passage of this bill in the House and had agreement in the Senate to discharge the bill and move it all the way to final passage. However, in the end, the bill died in the political scrum between the House and Senate. Both the House and the Senate have introduced bills to once again allow school districts to be part of a district library. A hearing on HB 4191 in House Committee on Local Government is expected soon.

Legislation Introduced to Make Libraries Gun Free
Representative Andy Schor (D-Lansing) introduced House Bill 4261 which prohibits openly carried guns in so-called “gun-free zones” already in state law. The bill also amends the Concealed Weapon Act to add public libraries to the list of Michigan’s gun-free zones. A similar bill was introduced last year but was never granted a hearing in committee. Rep. Schor also attempted to introduce amendments to two of the gun bills in the House this week that would have closed the open carry loophole and added libraries to the gun-free list, but both were gaveled down and defeated. Passage of the new bill is unlikely; however, if your library supports libraries as gun- free zones, please contact your State Representative and ask them to support HB 4261 and take a moment to thank Rep. Schor for including libraries in his bill.

Gun-Free Legislation News Release

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