During the 2023 legislative cycle, NCRA Government Relations has been hard at work tracking, analyzing, and tackling the state and federal legislation that is most important to NCRA members. Our advocacy efforts this year have included the following:
State Legislation—Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and California
In January 2023 the Indiana Supreme Court Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure attempted to amend Trial Rule 74 to prohibit recording through shorthand or stenography. In response to the attempted prohibition, NCRA Government Relations launched an aggressive nationwide grassroots campaign that urged over 29,000 court reporters and captioners across the country to oppose the ban. As a result of NCRA’s grassroots advocacy efforts, the Indiana Supreme Court issued an Order Amending the Rules of Trial Procedure, Rule 74, on March 27, 2023, to state that “Shorthand or stenography is permitted so long as the audio recording requirement of section (A) is met.” The amendment will go into effect on January 1, 2024. You can read more about the attempted prohibition and NCRA’s grassroots advocacy efforts to oppose it here.
Thank you again to our Indiana colleagues, the NCRA STRONG Committee, and everyone who made calls, submitted official comments, and sent letters opposing the attempted prohibition.
In May 2023 NCRA Government Relations and the Illinois Court Reporters Association (ILCRA) were made aware that digital proponents attempted to introduce a senate amendment to the Illinois CSR Act of 1984. Specifically, Senate Amendment 2 to Illinois House Bill 2394 sought to: (1) extend the sunset of the CSR Act by one year instead of five years; (2) create a Task Force on the Future of Court Reporting comprised of 11 members to make recommendations on how to increase the number of CSRs and voice writers in Illinois; (3) investigate whether other states allow digital recording; and (4) make recommendations to expand the use of digital reporting. The language that attempted to create the task force was slanted to favor an outcome that would allow for licensure of digital reporters and their inclusion in the IL CSR Act. Lastly, the senate amendment also attempted to codify Illinois Supreme Court rules that currently allow digital recorders to work in Illinois.
Once NCRA Government Relations was made aware of the senate amendment, it immediately launched a full-scale grassroots advocacy campaign and sent out several action alert emails to 1,635 court reporters and captioners throughout the state of Illinois, encouraging them to contact members of the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee and urging them to vote against the amendment.
Within an hour of launching the NCRA grassroots advocacy campaign, NCRA was informed that Senate Amendment 2 would not be included in House Bill 2394. Due to the tremendous efforts of NCRA, ILCRA, ILCRA’s lobbyist, and court reporters and captioners across the state of Illinois, the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee was compelled to announce that no amendment would be forthcoming.
In May 2022 NCRA Government Relations was contacted by the Wisconsin Court Reporters Association (WCRA) about the Wisconsin State Courts Office’s recent decision to discontinue recognition of NCRA’s Registered Merit Reporter (RMR) certification for purposes of their state Court Reporter Compensation Schedule after the year 2023; for reference, the RMR is a next-level skills certification designed for experienced, mid-career stenographic court reporters. In sum, the new policy prevents stenographic court reporters who earn their RMR in Wisconsin from receiving a pay increase after 2023.
In response to this unjust policy decision, NCRA President Jason Meadors, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, and NCRA Government Relations sent a letter to Honorable Randy R. Koschnick, the Director of the Wisconsin State Courts Office. In the letter, NCRAstood in support of the Wisconsin Court Reporters Association and respectfully requested that reinstatement of the prior policy, which recognizes the NCRA RMR certification, and which authorizes pay increases for those stenographic court reporters who earn the RMR certification, be reconsidered. Director Koschnick confirmed receipt of NCRA’s letter and noted that he would give our stance due consideration.
In February 2023 California Senate Bill 662 was introduced. The purpose of the bill is to expand electronic and digital recording in civil cases including family law, mental health, and domestic violence proceedings if a court reporter refuses to take down the record or is not available. NCRA Government Relations, the California Court Reporters Association (CCRA), and the Deposition Reporters Association of California (CALDRA) were working together to track the bill throughout the legislative process. As of May 18, 2023, the bill remains in the California Senate Appropriations Committee until it can be heard again, the earliest the bill will be heard again will be in January 2024. Currently, the bill is not dead, but it will not go to the Senate floor for a vote at this time.
NCRA Government Relations would personally like to thank CCRA, CALDRA, the NCRA STRONG Committee, and the NCRA NCSA Governing Committee for working with NCRA to fight this bill. In the instance that CA SB 662 heads to the California Senate floor for a vote in 2024, NCRA Government Relations has a VoterVoice opposition campaign ready to launch that will encourage court reporters and captioners across the country to fight this bill.
Federal Legislation and Hearings—the Training for Realtime Writers Act, the PRO Act, and the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on AI
The Training for Realtime Writers Act of 2023
In March 2023 NCRA Government Relations was proud to announce that Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II of Missouri will be serving as the first Democratic sponsor of the Training for Realtime Writers Act of 2023 which seeks to appropriate funds to accredited stenographic court reporting and stenographic captioning programs for the recruitment and training of new stenographic captioners. You can read more about Representative Cleaver’s sponsorship here. However, despite securing a democratic sponsor, NCRA Government Relations has been hard at work meeting with Representatives on Capitol Hill to also secure a Republican sponsor; legislation needs sponsors from both major parties to increase the likelihood of passage and enactment into law. Over the past few months NCRA Government Relations has met with: Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, II (MO), Rep. Brian Mast (FL), Rep. John Rutherford (FL), Rep. Burgess Owens (UT), Rep. Eric Burlison (MO), Rep. Ron Estes (KS), Rep. Kevin Kiley (CA), Rep. John James (MI), Rep. Glenn Thompson (PA), Rep. Jim Banks (IN), Rep. Tim Walberg (MI), Rep. Joe Wilson (SC), Rep. Joe Wilson (SC), Rep. Glenn Grothman (WI), and Sen. Rand Paul (KY).
More on the bill: It attempts to establish a competitive grant program that would appropriate $10 million annually for five years (for a total of $50 million) to accredited stenographic court reporting and stenographic captioning programs. Upon enactment of the most recent version of the bill, individual stenographic institutions that apply and are deemed eligible by the Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) may receive up to $1.5 million for the recruitment and training of new stenographic captioners.
S. 567/H.R. 20, Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2023
In March 2021 the PRO Act, which seeks to reclassify independent contractors as employees, passed in the House of Representatives and was then referred to several U.S. Senate Committees. In March 2021 NCRA Government Relations issued an action alert opposing Section 101 of the PRO Act, which you may read more about here. Since being referred to the U.S. Senate in February 2022, the bill had little movement and died in the 117th Congress.
In June 2022, because of the PRO Act’s lack of passage, the Department of Labor (DOL) considered proposing a rule that seeks to reclassify independent contractors as employees. In its consideration of potential rulemaking, the DOL held an employer forum and a workers’ forum to gather input regarding a prospective rule, which you may read about here.
In February 2023, because of the U.S. Senate’s failure to pass the PRO Act and because of the DOL’s failure to propose a rulemaking reclassifying independent contractors, Congress once again reintroduced the PRO Act. However, this time the bill is known as S. 567/H.R. 20, Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2023, and was introduced in February 2023.
Like the previous PRO Act in the 117th Congress, this bill also contains provisions that seek to amend the federal definition of “employee” within the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and in doing so attempts to reclassify independent contractors as employees unless:
- “The individual is free from control and direction in the performance of the service, both under the contract for the performance of service and in fact;
- The service is performed outside of the usual course of business of the employer; and
- The individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business of the same nature as involved in the service performed.”
The language above is identical to the PRO Act’s previously suggested language, except for the bolded language which has been newly included. In summary, if the provision is implemented it would reclassify freelancers as employees unless they can satisfy provisions (A), (B), and (C). If the bill is enacted, the independent contractor status of freelance court reporters, captioners, legal videographers, and scopists may be at risk and their ability to provide essential services may be inhibited. Essentially, the PRO Act is like California Assembly Bill 5, which was enacted into law in 2018, except that it would impact freelancers nationally if enacted.
Here’s the good news: Like the previous PRO Act, the current bill, Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2023, has had no movement and has a 4% chance of being enacted into law according to GovTrack.us. Upon being reintroduced and referred to the House Education & Workforce Committee and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions on February 28, 2023, the bill has had no movement, nor has either committee held a hearing on the bill. If the bill gains traction at any time, NCRA Government Relations will again launch another call to action to encourage our membership to oppose this legislation.
U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, & the Law Hearing on the Oversight of A.I.: Rules for Artificial Intelligence
On May 12, 2023, in collaboration with NCRA President Jason T. Meadors, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, the NCRA STRONG Committee, and NCRA Government Relations, a letter was sent to all committee staff sitting on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, & the Law.
Regarding the hearing: As it concerns the record, court or public records, the potential manipulation of court records, deepfakes, the U.S. justice system, and the court reporting and captioning industries, unfortunately the Subcommittee did not address any of these items. The broad topic, three-hour hearing primarily focused on the need for licensure, the need for the extensive regulation of A.I. models, and the possible implementation of a new U.S. governmental agency to regulate A.I. that addresses harm to American citizens and weighs the pros of A.I. versus safety risks. Lastly, another facet that was discussed frequently involved the need to regulate A.I. to ensure that misinformation within the U.S. electoral system and elections is prevented.
NCRA Government Relations’ summation of the hearing was that it did not address any judicial issues and was not specifically germane to NCRA and the professions it represents despite the regulation of A.I. being of major national importance. The conclusion following the hearing is that Congress is going to investigate whether they should create a new governmental agency to regulate A.I. generally or to determine whether other governmental agencies should be responsible for the regulation of A.I. Overall, the Subcommittee’s central concern focused on the regulation of A.I. generally and the prevention of misinformation as it pertains to the U.S. electoral system and future elections.
Following the hearing, NCRA Government Relations did not receive any responses from the Subcommittee regarding the letter that was sent. NCRA Government Relations would again like to thank the NCRA STRONG Committee for their swift action and attention to this matter.