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Thursday, March 15, 2012

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Legislative Update

A Legislative Agenda for Advocacy

NASAA Legislative Counsel Thomas L. Birch

At the start of each year's congressional session, NASAA works with the other arts service organizations engaged in legislative advocacy to draw up our collective policy agenda for the coming months. Our leading issue with every Congress is the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and each year, in time, Congress addresses the budget and enacts the appropriations bill needed to continue the federal arts funding.

Other issues on our policy agenda sometimes take years to reach a legislative conclusion. One such issue, musical instruments as carry-on luggage, was settled at the start of this year and has set the law in support of musicians. After five years and 23 short-term extensions, Congress passed legislation the first week in February reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration for the next four years. Included in the bill are provisions that create a uniform national policy regarding musical instruments on airplanes.

Up until now, airlines were allowed their own, often differing, policies regarding the size of an instrument that could be stored in the overhead bin of an airplane. In addition, the application of these policies by airline personnel has been arbitrary and capricious. As a result, many musicians have had to choose at the last moment to cancel a flight and miss an engagement because of the fear that their instruments would be damaged if sent as checked baggage.

What's more, the airlines' policies were not related in any way to security measures implemented after September 11, 2001. In fact, in 2002, the Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) instituted a specific policy allowing passengers to carry one musical instrument, in addition to one carry-on and one personal item, through screening checkpoints. However, the TSA rules allowed each airline to set its own policy on storing musical instruments.

The new law signed by President Obama on February 14 would eliminate the capricious policies imposed by various airlines. Any instrument that can be safely stored in the overhead compartment or underneath the seat may be brought on board as carry-on luggage. In addition, the law provides for oversized instruments too large to carry on a plane. A musician could check the instrument or buy a seat on the airplane for a large instrument like a cello that might be too delicate to be checked. The new law will become fully operational once the U.S. Department of Transportation has released regulations to implement the new policy.

Other issues on this year's legislative arts agenda include:

These issues on the year's legislative advocacy agenda will provide the core of action items carried to Capitol Hill on Arts Advocacy day in April. Look for the full set of issue briefs on NASAA's website in coming weeks.

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