Policy Action Heats Up

July 10, 2015

League Calls for Treaty Improvements for Musical Instruments

As more than 180 countries prepare to re-negotiate the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in the fall of 2016, the League is asking U.S. representatives to pursue improvements to policies for travel with musical instruments. In comments on behalf of orchestras filed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on July 10, the League asked the U.S. negotiators to pursue exemptions, harmonize international policies, and improve guidance as musicians struggle to comply with newly-enforced permit requirements for international travel with musical instruments that contain protected species material like ivory, rosewood, sea turtle and lizard. Just this month, Switzerland announced an exemption from the CITES permit process for musical instruments that are hand-carried -- a policy that could be adopted by the U.S. and other CITES countries. As the U.S. also continues to consider potential new domestic restrictions on commerce and international travel with items containing African elephant ivory, the League is in ongoing dialogue with other national music organizations, conservation groups, and federal officials, in pursuit of policy solutions that meet urgent conservation needs while also protecting international cultural exchange.

As Education Debate Continues, Music Advocates Weigh In

Orchestras are speaking up as both the House and Senate re-write the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind.  At the center of debate is the fundamental question of how far the federal government should go in requiring state accountability for equitable access to a complete education. The House has passed its bill, which has earned a White House veto promise given HR 5's dramatic reduction in the federal footprint on education policy. The House bill also omits a definition of core academic subjects, and would eliminate the Arts in Education program, along with 60 other programs of the U.S. Department of Education. As the Senate continues debate on its bill, orchestras are joining other arts advocates in requesting support for the arts as a core academic subject of learning, and asking for approval of an amendment that would encourage states to develop public "dashboards" that offer transparency on disparities in student access to arts education and other core subjects of learning.

NEA Budget Process Still Underway

Initial rapid progress in Congress has now slowed as the FY16 Interior Appropriations bill, which funds the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), gets caught up in broader partisan policy divides. Both the House and Senate committees passed their proposals, which call for continued funding of the NEA at $146 million. The House bill made its way through debate this week, before being abruptly pulled from the floor, while the Senate has not yet sent its bill to the floor for a full debate. Controversial policy provisions related to environmental policy, overall budget levels, and recent proposals related to display of the confederate flag have drawn objections from the White House and Congressional minority, miring the bill in partisan debates. Even if both chambers pass their versions, the ultimate state of Interior funding remains uncertain.

Orchestras have been active participants during the FY16 budget process, beginning with in-person testimony before the House Interior Subcommittee in March, written testimony to the Senate submitted by the League in April, and continual advocacy from orchestras engaging throughout each stage of the funding process, reaching out to officials in 38 states and counting.

IRA Rollover Remains Expired as Congress Mulls Comprehensive Tax Reform

The IRA Charitable Rollover provision has spurred new and increased giving to orchestras and thousands of other charitable organizations, but remains unavailable to donors following its expiration on December 31, 2014. Orchestras and other nonprofit advocates continue to ask Congress to act now, and to #Act4Good by making the IRA Rollover and other expired charitable giving incentives permanent. Action on reinstating the IRA Rollover is hung up as Congress considers next steps in comprehensive tax reform. On July 8, the Senate Finance Committee released reports from their working groups, including consideration of charitable giving incentives. The report includes comments that are generally supportive of considering action that would "increase certainty for taxpayers and increase the amount of funds that flow to charities" regarding the IRA Rollover, but provides no firm plans for action. More than 40% of the revenue that supports orchestras' work in service to their communities comes from charitable giving.  The League is representing orchestras in ongoing tax reform conversations, while orchestras continue to weigh in from home as policy leaders on both sides of the Capital dome consider next steps.

Summer Homework: Meet Your Elected Officials!

Summer is the best time to connect with your elected officials. They will be home for the entire month of August, which means now is the perfect time to reach out and invite your Representative and Senators to meet with you, attend a summer concert, witness an education program at work, or participate in an event that demonstrates your orchestra's engagement in the community. Getting in touch now pays off later, when you need to contact members on urgent issues. Please stay in touch with the League's DC Office as well-- we'd love to know how you're connecting with your officials at home, so we can help reinforce your relationships in Washington!