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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

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Legislative Update

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

House Approves Arts Endowment Increase: On May 18, the House of Representatives agreed by voice vote to increase appropriations for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) by $5 million each in fiscal year 2007. The bipartisan amendment was co-sponsored by Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Christopher Shays (R-CT), Norm Dicks (D-WA), David Price (D-NC) and James Leach (R-IA).

The FY 2007 Interior Appropriations Bill sent to the House floor by the Appropriations Committee had set the NEA funding at the 2006 level of $124.4 million, as proposed in the President's FY 2007 budget. The proposed budget cut $3.462 million from Challenge America, increased program support, salaries and expenses by $1.843 million and added $508,000 to State and Regional Partnerships.

In a letter sent to all Representatives the morning of the floor debate, the amendment's co-sponsors argued for increased funding and pointed to the NEA's support of life-long learning in the arts and the role of the arts in promoting economic growth. According to the letter, "the American public wants and needs an affordable investment in the arts and humanities....an investment in our future."

In the few minutes of House floor discussion, the amendment's sponsors, joined by other supporters of the arts funding increase, spoke about the role of the NEA in broadening access to the arts, the benefits of the arts to local economic growth, the value of Challenge America in bringing the arts to American communities, and the importance of the arts in education. The floor manager for the Interior Appropriations Bill, subcommittee chair Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC), accepted the amendment and it was passed.

A second amendment introduced by Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-CO) would have cut NEA funds by $30 million, creating a significant reduction in federal arts spending. The amendment failed with 306 voting against the cut and 112 voting in favor of the decrease. Similar proposals to cut arts funding have failed on the House floor in years past, including fiscal year 2006..

The bill will go next to the Senate, where a vote is expected among the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee in late June or early July.

Senate Votes Bill to Improve Artsist Visas: As part of its comprehensive immigration bill, on May 26 the Senate approved a provision requiring U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to speed up visa processing for artists. If included in the final immigration reform measure, still to be worked out by Congress and the White House, the artists' visa provision would improve opportunities for artistic exchange and the reduce the uncertainty and financial losses currently suffered by nonprofit arts organizations attempting to book foreign artists pursuing visa applications.

The provision included in the Senate immigration bill would reduce the current processing times for nonprofit arts-related visa petitions. For any nonprofit arts-related visa petition that USCIS fails to adjudicate within 30 days, it would be required to treat the application as a Premium Processing case, with a 15-day turn-around, free of additional charge. The Senate bill's language was included in response to advocacy by the arts community for an amendment that would significantly improve the reliability of the artist visa process.

Charitable Tax Provisions Still on the Table: Congress passed a tax bill on May 11 that excluded the package of charitable giving reforms and incentives which had been included in the Senate version of the bill. The charitable package may still move forward as part of another tax bill on pension reform legislation which is now before a House-Senate conference committee.

The tax legislation passed by the Senate had included a long-anticipated change in the federal tax code to allow artists to take a fair market value tax deduction for a charitable contribution when donating their own work to museums or library collections.

Another item in the Senate bill would allow for the first time the deduction of charitable contributions made by individuals aged 70.5 years or older with funds from an Individual Retirement Account, without requiring that the funds first be counted as income to the donor.