League Ivory Comments, IRA Rollover Status, Arts Education Updates, and More

October 8, 2015

League Calls for Progress and Clarity in New Ivory Rules

On behalf of member orchestras nationwide, the League filed comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on September 28, supporting proposed exemptions for musical instruments from new rules restricting commerce and international travel with items containing elephant ivory, and calling for further improvements and clarifications to proposed policies that will impact the future use of violins, bows, bassoons, and other musical instruments legally made with small quantities of ivory. The proposed rules deal primarily with future sales of ivory-containing items, but also provide one form of relief related to travel that was requested by the League and its partners in national music organizations. The League website provides an overview of this complicated topic that includes a summary of our comments, and also provides updated guidance for musicians preparing for international travel as rules continue to change. The timeline for finalizing the draft rules is uncertain, as USFWS must now take into account the many thousands of public comments prompted by the proposed new policies. The League comments also urge USFWS to adopt immediate policy improvements to the rules for international travel, which are expected to be taken up in a separate rule-making process later this year. We remain in close dialogue with USFWS, music industry stakeholders, and conservation interests as orchestras pursue policy solutions that will both protect endangered species and support international cultural activity.

IRA Rollover Status Still Uncertain

With less than three months remaining in the 2015 tax year, Congress has still not taken final action to reinstate the IRA Charitable Rollover provision. This charitable giving incentive has produced new and increased contributions to support orchestras and the full array of nonprofit organizations serving local communities, but expired on December 31, 2014. The League's membership of orchestras is partnering with Feeding America, United Way Worldwide, American Red Cross, Independent Sector, and dozens of other national organizations calling on Congress and the Administration to make the IRA Rollover permanently available. We will share further developments on the possibility of permanence, reinstatement for 2015, or a two-year reinstatement and extension of this important charitable giving incentive.

Federal Government Averts Shutdown: Appropriations Still Unfinished

Mere hours before federal funding was set to expire last week, Congress passed a stopgap bill to fund the government through December 11, 2015. Under these continuing resolutions (CR), most agencies enter a new fiscal year operating under the previous year's spending priorities. The Interior bill, which funds the National Endowment for the Arts, was making rapid progress in both chambers until heated debates in the House over policies unrelated to the NEA sidelined further progress. Similarly, neither the House nor the Senate were able to advance an education spending bill to the floor for a full vote, which leaves the status of the currently $25 million-funded Arts in Education program at the U.S. Department of Education unresolved once again. As Congress continues to debate overall spending limits and priorities, the League will keep you posted on important opportunities to weigh in.

Education Act Re-Write Awaits Action

The 14-year wait for Congress to re-write the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has grown longer as changes in leadership of the House of Representatives slows progress on a number of legislative issues. The League coordinated a September 15 letter from national arts and education organizations to House and Senate Chairs and Ranking Members of the committees responsible for next steps on ESEA, calling specifically for support for the Arts in Education programs. After each chamber passed their respective ESEA bills, the next step is for a committee of conferees to work together on a compromise bill to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions. While the timing of further action is uncertain, advocates have plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the progress arts education has made.  As always, the most immediate action on arts education policy happens at the state and local level.  See the League's resources to help orchestras be active partners in these efforts.