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The Library and Michigan Senate Bill 571

by on February 23, 2016

Update: The bill referred to in this article is currently on hold via a federal court injunction. Read more here. (Editor, February 24, 2016).

I live in Michigan, the only state where it is illegal for libraries, schools, or any municipality to share vital voting information with their patrons sixty days before an election. If a reference librarian performs their duty of providing a patron with information, it could now be viewed as a criminal act. Senate Bill 571 was passed by legislators that did not consider the weight of its terms.

Governor Rick Snyder’s stated intent was to disallow municipalities to spend taxpayer money on political propaganda, stop officials from sharing their personal opinions with others, and prevent the use of public facilities as debating centers.[1] Many people, though, including legislators, are confused about what the bill actually entails. Although Senator Margaret O’Brien and Republican Representatives David Maturen and Brant Iden all voted “yes” on Bill 571, Maturen told the Kalamazoo Gazette,”For something this big and with these kinds of ramifications, I think we need to discuss it more, I really do.”[2] It is frightening to think that our lawmakers are voting on bills without understanding the ramifications that it will have on its taxpayers. In addition to the bill being a “last-minute vote,” it also gave lawmakers little time to review the bill which grew from fourteen pages to fifty-three. [3]

Now, Governor Snyder has requested that legislators clarify the diction of Senate Bill 571 in time for the March 2016 election. But even after the language in the bill has been explained, I am sure it will still embody a clear infringement on not just our vocational obligations as librarians, but also our First Amendment rights. Patrons go to the library to obtain information, and with the passing of this bill, the law will prohibit librarians from performing one of their most important vocational duties: providing our community with information.

I contacted our local branch of League of Women Voters to see if they have any plans on publishing candidate information before the sixty-day window so that we can make it available to patrons, and they informed me that it would be accessible about the time absentee ballots go out to voters. If I give the “League of Women Voters” publication to a requesting patron 59 days before the election, though, my library could be fined $20,000. In my experience working the reference desk, many patrons will inquire about the candidates a few days before an election occurs.  Is it not their right to know for whom they are voting and the candidates’ principles? How can an uninformed person exercise their right to vote?

We must fight and protect our vocation and what it represents. It is our job as librarians and information professionals to provide our communities with reliable and unbiased information. We cannot allow our government to enact an aimless means of voting in complete darkness. Update: The bill referred to in this article is currently on hold via a federal court injunction. Read more here. (Editor, February 24, 2016).

References:

[1] Christopher A. Wigent. “Senate Bill 571 censors factual election information,” The Detroit News, December 23, 2015.

[2] Julie Mack. “Kalamazoo County GOP lawmakers rethink votes on ‘gag order’ election bill,” M Live, January 5, 2016.

[3] Lisa Peet. “Bill in MI would limit info to voters; Librarians protest,” Library Journal, January 12, 2016.


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1 comment

  1. Rachael says:

    Feb 24, 2016

    Hi James! I wrote this before they put this bill on hold. Thank you for sharing the information! 🙂

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