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Monday, April 23, 2007

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NationalAssembly of State Arts Agencies

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Legislative Update

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch NEA Chairman Presents Arts Budget to Appropriations Panel

On March 20, 2007, in the first round of congressional budget deliberations for the fiscal year 2008 funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), NEA Chairman Dana Gioia testified before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee on behalf of the administration's budget, requesting $128.412 million for the federal arts agency in the coming year.

Gioia's testimony in support of the President's proposal to increase the arts agency's budget by $4 million focused on the reach of NEA grants to "every community in the United States" through the Challenge America program and the arts endowment's other initiatives and granting programs. In describing the literary component of the American Masterpieces, The Big Read, Gioia told the legislators that the NEA's goal is to connect with 200 communities in all 50 states in 2007, and expanding to 400 communities in 2008.

When asked by the subcommittee chair, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), what he would do with funds in the NEA budget above the level requested by the White House, Gioia identified five priorities: investing in the core granting programs to increase the size of grants; improving support for arts education; broadening the reach of grants to underserved communities; increasing appropriations to the state arts agencies, which "reach deeper than we do"; and improving funding for international cultural exchanges.

Gioia encountered a warm reception from the appropriations panel, with praise from Democratic and Republican legislators alike for his energy and creativity in guiding the NEA. The subcommittee chair Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) opened the hearing by telling Gioia that "we hope that working together we can make your second term even better." However, Dicks observed, with some disappointment, that the President's funding request for 2008 is "a flat budget in real terms" and still well below the high budget mark of twelve years ago. He expressed the hope that the subcommittee would be able to "find funds to address this shortfall."

The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee expects to markup its funding bill—with the NEA budget included—after mid-May. The Senate counterpart subcommittee will take action later. No hearings like that held in the House have been scheduled in the Senate.

Artists Fair Market Value Charitable Deduction Bills

Once again, legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate to provide artists the full fair-market value tax deduction for the charitable donation of their own works to collecting institutions. The Artist-Museum Partnership Act (S. 548 and H.R. 1524) is the same as legislation introduced in each Congress since 1999. Every legislative session, the bill moves closer but never fully toward enactment. Having passed the Senate more than once, the legislation has never passed the House. Advocates are hopeful that the political possibilities for the legislation may have matured to favor passage in the current Congress.

In the Senate, two longtime supporters of the artists' deduction bill, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Robert Bennett (R-UT), teamed up again to introduce the legislation jointly. They are joined on the measure by the following who have signed thus far as cosponsors: Sens. Ted Stevens (R-AK), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT), Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Jim Bunning (R-KY), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), John Kerry, (D-MA), Norm Coleman (R-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Pete V. Domenici (R-NM), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), John Warner (R-VA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

In the House, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) introduced H.R. 1524 along with Reps. Jim Ramstad (R-MN) and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX). Other cosponsors signed on so far to the House bill include: Reps. Phil English (R-PA), Sander Levin (D-MI), Ron Lewis (R-KY), Michael H. Michaud (D-ME), Jim Ramstad (R-MN), MN-3] Christopher Shays (R-CT), and Mike Thompson (D-CA).

The two congressional tax-writing committees, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, have responsibility for further action on the two measures.

Arts Act Bill to Speed Visa Process

Legislation to improve the visa process for foreign artists visiting to perform in the United States was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) on March 5. The Arts Require Timely Service (ARTS) Act (H.R. 1312) would reduce the current processing times for O and P nonprofit arts-related visa petitions to a maximum of 45 days.

The new provisions, amending the Immigration and Nationality Act, would apply to "an alien with extraordinary ability in the arts" and would require the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to treat as a Premium Processing case - with a 15-day turn-around and free of additional charge — any nonprofit arts-related O and P visa petition that it fails to adjudicate within 30 days.

Identical provisions were included in the Senate's immigration reform bill in 2006, but the measure was stalled by the debate on more comprehensive immigration reform.

Joining Berman on the House bill as cosponsors are Reps. Marsh Blackburn (R-TN), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Howard Coble (R-NC), Daniel E. Lungren (R-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Adam B. Schiff (D-CA), and Anthony D. Weiner (D-NY).

Keep abreast of current congressional news and federal legislative updates, and be sure to take advantage of NASAA's arts advocacy tools and services.