Committee OKs bill expanding library powers

By Todd Richmond, Associated Press | Posted - Jan. 26, 2016 at 2:01 p.m.



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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Beware, overdue book borrowers. Wisconsin lawmakers are thinking about sending out the library police.

The state Senate's Elections and Local Government unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would create exceptions to privacy laws protecting library users' identities so libraries could report delinquent borrowers to collection agencies and police. The committee vote clears the way for a full vote on the Senate floor.

The bill's author, Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, a River Falls Republican, said in written testimony to the committee that the proposal would give libraries tools they need to recover their materials and collect fines.

"The financial loss of unreturned library materials and unpaid fines ultimately fall on taxpayers," she wrote. "I urge your support of this legislation that provides options for libraries ... in an effort to save taxpayer dollars."

Wisconsin Library Association lobbyist Steven Conway said the bill would help establish uniform procedures for recovering overdue materials. Right now, he said, different municipalities are advising libraries to use different strategies, including assigning a librarian to make calls, referring borrowers to collection agencies and turning to police.

But it's unclear whether those tactics are legal under borrower privacy protections, Harsdorf aide Alison Zikmund said. The bill clarifies that collection agencies and police are clearly options, she said.

Under current Wisconsin law, libraries are generally prohibited from disclosing the identity of borrowers or people who use library resources. They can disclose their user information to staff members acting in their official capacity, to other libraries to facilitate interlibrary loans and to parents of borrowers under 16. They also must release records pursuant to a court order and surveillance camera images to police if officers are investigating a crime at a library.

The bill would allow libraries to give collection agencies information about a delinquent borrower's accounts, including the person's name and contact information. Libraries also could report that information to police if the unreturned materials are worth at least $50.

The Senate committee approved the bill without any discussion. It's unclear whether the full Senate will vote on the measure. Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Republican senators haven't had a chance to discuss the bill.

Lawmakers are flooding their leaders with proposals as the session winds down and they get ready to hit the campaign trail. Fitzgerald has said he expects the Senate to finish in March. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos wants to finish even sooner than that, perhaps by the end of February.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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Todd Richmond

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