Advocacy and Government

League to Comment on Proposed Ivory Rules

September 21, 2015

As the League reported earlier this summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has announced new draft rules related to African elephant ivory. The proposed new policies - which would impact commerce and travel for musical instruments that contain ivory, such as bows, stringed instruments, and bassoons - are open for public comment through Monday, September 28. 
Aside from one clear improvement that would broaden the array of instruments eligible for travel permits, the proposed new rules are intended to deal primarily with future domestic interstate sale of items that contain African elephant ivory.
The League will file comments on behalf of its member orchestras in response to the proposed ivory rules and is coordinating with colleagues in other national music organizations to reinforce the following key points:                        

  • The music community is fully committed to the goals of wildlife conservation and combating illegal trade in ivory and other protected species. We seek reasonable solutions that protect the domestic and international use of musicians' tools of their trade and preserve the use of historically and legally made instruments now and for future generations to come.


  • We support the proposal to allow the future domestic interstate sale of musical instruments that contain "de minimis" amounts of ivory. 
  • We applaud USFWS for acknowledging multiple times in the draft regulations that "trade in the types of manufactured items that would qualify for this proposed de minimis exception is not contributing to or driving the illegal ivory trade." 
  • The proposed threshold for qualifying for the "de minimis" standard for domestic interstate commerce is 200 grams. While this amount covers a wide array of musical instruments that contain ivory, it may not cover instruments with multiple keyboards, such as organs, and some bagpipes. We also prefer a measurement by volume, as it may be difficult to assess the weight of ivory parts without dismantling fragile instruments. 
  • The proposed rules include exemptions for exhibitions by "museums or similar cultural or historical organizations." We request that orchestras and other 501(c)(3) cultural organizations be considered eligible for exemptions under this, or a separate future rulemaking process.


  • The proposed rules would remove the current restriction on non-commercial travel into the U.S. with instruments that were purchased after February 25, 2014 that contain African elephant ivory. We strongly support this substantial policy improvement. 
  • Further improvements are urgently needed for international travel with musical instruments that contain protected species material. We look forward to the opportunity for continued communication with USFWS as new travel-related policies are crafted.

Ongoing concerns related to international travel by orchestras and other musicians that cross borders to perform with the tools of their trade could be taken up in a separate rulemaking procedure. The opportunity to comment on travel-related concerns in more detail may begin later this year, when USFWS is expected to issue draft rules to formally implement the newly-crafted musical instrument certificate, and this issue may be taken up during the next negotiations on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The League will keep orchestras informed as that process moves forward, so that touring orchestras, guest musicians, and music ensembles can take full advantage of the opportunity to weigh in on potential policy changes.

If your orchestra - or individuals associated with the orchestra - would like to comment on the proposed rules, please keep in mind that all comments submitted to the Federal Register can be viewed by the general public. Also, responses on proposed regulations are most effective if they are customized to bring personal experience, statistical data, or a unique perspective to the issue. Multiple copies of "cookie cutter" messages do not have as much impact in this regulatory setting. Comments may be submitted using this portal in the Federal Register by September 28. If you do submit comments, please send a copy to the League's Washington, D.C. office so that we can reinforce your message in our ongoing communications with federal policy makers.
Further background on the proposed new ivory policies is on the League web site, and we will be keeping you posted on policy developments. If you have any questions, please feel welcome to contact the League's VP for Advocacy, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Thank you!

New Draft Ivory Rules Address Musical Instruments

July 27, 2015

President Obama has announced a new round of draft rules to implement a near-total ivory sales ban in response to the global poaching and trafficking threat to African elephants. In February of 2014, the Administration had announced that new rules limiting domestic sales were on the way, and also immediately implemented new restrictions related to international travel. The proposed rules that have just been released for public review and comment primarily address domestic commerce, would make some new changes for travel, and include some important accommodations that have been requested by the League and our partners in the broader music community since plans for the ban were first announced last year.

The League has been actively weighing in with policy leaders and stakeholders as proposals take shape, and informing orchestras of the immediate impact of policy changes. In announcing the proposed rules, which would reverse a current travel restriction and provide certain opportunities for ongoing domestic commerce in musical instruments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) stated that it, "consulted extensively with groups that may be impacted by new trade controls for ivory, including professional musicians" and said that the proposal "recognizes that legal trade in these items does not contribute to the current poaching crisis."

The music community supports the goals of wildlife conservation and combating illegal trade in ivory and other protected species. In partnership with the broader music community, the League is in ongoing dialogue with the Administration and key policy leaders to seek solutions that address wildlife conservation goals while also protecting musical activity that is supported by musicians' tools of their trade.
These new regulations are in draft form, and will not go into effect until the public has an opportunity to comment on the new policies.  After public comments are taken into consideration, the proposed rules may be further altered before they are finalized and enforced. The League is still analyzing the new rules, will comment on behalf of the field of orchestras, and will prepare orchestras to respond directly to this important opportunity to weigh in. The rules will be formally posted for public comment on July 28, and remain open for comments until September 28, 2015. As we explore the details further, here are some highlights related to musical instruments:

  • For international travel, the proposed rule would grant a request of the music community by removing the current prohibition on travel with musical instruments legally purchased after February 25, 2014 that contain African elephant ivory. The remaining travel requirements which have been in effect for more than a year, would continue to apply. This removal of the purchase date restriction would be a significant improvement over current policy. Further requests of the music community related to easing international travel will be under consideration in separate rule-making procedures, and as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is re-negotiated in 2016.
  • For domestic interstate commerce, the proposed rule would allow the future sale of musical instruments that contain "de minimis" amounts of ivory (less than 200 grams), and that were legally crafted and legally imported. Allowances would also be made for qualified antiques, 100 years old or older. Sales within states would remain subject to any additional state commerce laws. For instruments less than 100 years old, the following requirements would apply:
  1. If the item is located in the United States, the ivory must have been imported prior to January 18, 1990, or imported under a CITES pre-Convention certificate with no limitation on its commercial use.
  2. If the item is located outside of the United States, the ivory must have been removed from the wild prior to February 26, 1976.
  3. The ivory is a fixed component or components of a larger manufactured item and not the primary source of the value of the item.
  4. The ivory is not raw.
  5. The manufactured item is not made wholly or primarily of ivory.
  6. The total weight of the ivory component or components is less than 200 grams.
  7. The item must have been manufactured before the effective date of the final rule.

Among the variety of musical instruments that have been previously made with small quantities of ivory, the most common are bows used for stringed instruments, which may have a piece of finished ivory on the protective tip.  The quantity of ivory in a bow tip weighs on average 0.25 grams. Embellishments on bassoons and stringed instruments, and the veneer of piano keys use larger quantities. In the proposed rules the USFWS says, "We have chosen 200 grams as the weight limit because we understand that this is the approximate maximum weight of the ivory veneer on a piano with a full set of ivory keys and that this quantity would also cover most other musical instruments with ivory trim or appointments."

The Q & A on the proposed rule offers the following example of how the rules would apply to musical instruments:

Example scenario:

I have a violin bow that contains a small amount of ivory. Under the proposed revisions, will I be able to sell the bow in the United States, export it for sale, or take it overseas for a concert? 

If the bow meets the requirements for the de minimis exception, including that the ivory was removed from the wild prior to February 26, 1976, and that the total weight of the ivory is less than 200 grams you will be able to sell it in the United States.

If the bow qualifies as an ESA antique you will be able to export it for sale.

If the bow meets the requirements for import/export of a musical instrument, including that the ivory was removed from the wild prior to February 26, 1976, it is accompanied by a CITES musical instrument certificate or equivalent CITES document, the bow is securely marked or uniquely identified, and it will not be sold or otherwise transferred while outside the United States (see paragraph (e)(4) in the proposed rule text for details) you can travel with it internationally for personal use, including to perform in concert.

The League is analyzing the proposed rules for a more complete understanding of their full impact. The removal of one travel restriction would be very helpful, and the opportunity to allow future commerce in legally crafted musical instruments is also encouraging. As we continue to examine the specific details of the proposed new rules, we will take into account whether the documentation requirements for qualifying for an exemption are affordable and accessible, and the implications of implementing an exemption based on weight rather than volume, which is more easily measured.

Thank you for your ongoing, effective advocacy on this complicated and important topic! Our website provides additional detail and context about this policy area and the League will soon provide more information about how to participate in the public comment period on these rules.

Education and IRA Progress: Your Continued Advocacy Needed!

July 22, 2015

While U.S. Senate Passes Education Bill, Policies are Made in Your Home Town

On July 16, the Senate passed a bipartisan education reform bill that would replace the No Child Left Behind Act with the Every Child Achieves Act, a federal education bill that names the arts and music as core academic subjects of learning, preserves 21st Century Learning Centers afterschool funding, and provides support for Arts in Education programs at the U.S. Department of Education -- three of the key policy requests made in hundreds of messages from orchestras to Senators during the drafting process and debate on the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Early this month, the House passed its education reform package, the Student Success Act. The House bill omits any definition of core academic subjects, and eliminates current afterschool and Arts in Education programs, in favor of flexible grants to states and districts. 
Next up, both chambers will need to designate Senators and Representatives charged with meeting in the middle to iron out a single bill that could win support from the House, Senate, and the White House. At issue will be major differences in each chamber's approach to state flexibility for the use of federal funds, and state accountability for students' progress. A proposal to require states to create publicly accessible "dashboards" was endorsed by orchestras and other arts advocates, but was defeated on the Senate floor amid broader disagreements on how to approach transparency on educational progress in a post-No Child Left Behind era.
What can your orchestra do to support music education in the schools as the national education reform debate continues? Advocate for music education in your community and at the state level. While federal education law provides broader structural pressures and incentives for public education policy, the vast majority of the decisions about how to close gaps in equitable access to arts education for our nation's students are -- and will continue to be -- made in your own back yard. Check out the League's music education advocacy tools, and stay engaged as the education reform process continues!

Progress on Reviving IRA Charitable Rollover

Dozens of orchestras in the states of members of the tax policy-writing Senate Finance Committee weighed in this week as those Senators acted to advance a legislative package that reinstates and extends 52 expired tax provisions, including the IRA Charitable Rollover. The bill is now ready to advance to the Senate floor, and would reinstate the IRA Rollover for the entire calendar years of 2015 and 2016, allowing donors to make larger contributions to charitable organizations by directly transferring a gift from their IRA without first paying taxes on the distribution. 
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has said he hopes the "extenders" package would reach the Senate floor before Congress goes on recess for the month of August, and that he would like to see some provisions made permanent. Timing will be tricky as fewer than 20 legislative days remain before the federal fiscal year ends, and the legislative calendar is packed with other priorities. Orchestras have joined the broader nonprofit sector in asking the Senate to make the IRA Charitable Rollover permanent as soon as possible, as approved earlier this year by the U.S. House of Representatives.
THANK YOU to the many orchestras that have been responding to the League's targeted requests for examples of how the IRA Charitable Rollover has supported your orchestra's work in your community. Your stories have been critical to supporting our efforts in meetings with key tax policy leaders in the U.S. Congress, as we work side-by-side with groups like Feeding America, the American Red Cross, and United Way Worldwide to seek permanent enactment of charitable giving incentives. Please stay tuned. The League will alert you as soon as there is certainty that the IRA Rollover will once again be reinstated.

Senate Finance Committee to Consider 2-Year Reinstatement of IRA Charitable Rollover

July 20, 2015

Your U.S. Senator is on an Important Committee: Urge Support for the IRA Rollover Today!

Your Senator, who sits on the Senate Committee on Finance, will be considering a bill tomorrow that would extend certain expired tax provisions, including the IRA Charitable Rollover. Nonprofit advocates across the country have been asking the Senate to reinstate and make permanent expired charitable giving incentives such as the IRA rollover, enhanced deductions for donations of food inventories, and conservation easements. The Senate bill that will be marked up tomorrow would reinstate these provisions for two years, retroactively from January 1, 2015 through December 31, 2016.

Communities throughout the country have benefitted from programs and performances delivered by orchestras, with support from IRA Charitable Rollover donations. The longer Congress waits to take action, the fewer resources will be available to support community needs.

Please contact your Senator on the Finance Committee, and describe just how important the IRA Rollover is to the work you do. Clicking on the link below will supply an email message addressed to your Senator, ready for you to customize very quickly and easily. Thank you!

Contact your Senator today!

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!

Take Action on Music Education: Senate to Start Debate, House to Follow

July 2, 2015

Senate Takes Up Education Policy Next Week, Followed by House

Beginning as early as Tuesday, July 7, the U.S. Senate will begin debating the Every Child Achieves Act, a bipartisan attempt at re-writing our nation's education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This is the first major Senate floor action on this topic since 2001. The U.S. House of Representatives plans to take up their bill, the Student Success Act, later in the week. 

Please take a moment to weigh in as your Senators and Representative prepare for what will likely be a lengthy debate and amendment process. Every communication counts, and helps amplify our collective voice!

Orchestras delivered more than 400 messages to the Senate in support of music education as an earlier version of the Senate bill made its way through committee. The latest version of the Senate bill, crafted by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), preserves the arts as a core academic subject of learning, maintains support for after-school learning programs, and provides for activities currently administered through the U.S. Department of Education’s Arts in Education grant program.

The House bill omits any definition of core academic subjects, and eliminates current afterschool and Arts in Education programs, in favor of flexible grants to states and districts.

As the Senate and House both consider competing points of view on how the federal government should influence education reform, we are asking Congress to do more to lead states and local schools to be publicly transparent about gaps in access to arts education, and to take steps to close those gaps. 
After all, to transition the arts from being merely listed as a core academic subject to being fully implemented in every school, there must be public accountability for disparities in student access to the benefits of a complete arts education.

Your members of Congress are in their home states for the 4th of July break. Contact them now and stay tuned as we keep you informed of key developments in the Senate and the House. Thank you!

Contact Your Senators and Representative in Support of Arts Education

Senate Committee Passes Education Bill

May 1, 2015

At the end of April, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions passed the Every Child Achieves Act (S.1177), a bipartisan bill which would reauthorize the nation’s federal education law for the first time since 2001.  Three key policy changes requested in more than 400 communications to the Senate from orchestras were addressed during full Committee consideration.  A definition of core academic subjects was added to the bill, including “arts” and “music.”  The bill also supports the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, and provides an authorization for activities currently funded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Arts in Education program.  The next step is for this bill to go to the Senate floor. Despite the Committee’s unanimous approval of the bill, full consideration by the Senate will involve debate over many amendments. 

In the meantime, there has been no movement on the House’s version of the education bill, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) since February, when a scheduled vote failed to take place due to sufficient support of the bill. New amendments may be offered, which could revive consideration of the House bill.

House to Debate this Week! Tell Your U.S. Rep to Support NEA in FY16

June 24, 2015

NEA Funding Bill Up for House Debate

For the first time since 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to consider the Interior funding bill this Thursday, which includes the budget allocation for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
The bill before the House, H.R. 2822, currently includes level funding for the NEA at $146 million. The House will debate any amendments to the bill on Thursday, but will delay votes until after the July 4 recess. The broader bill is subject to spending caps that make many programs vulnerable to cuts, and a variety of amendments are possible during the debate. The NEA is still recovering from budget cuts in prior years, is well below the 1992 peak funding level, and is an essential investment in our nation’s artistic and creative capacity. Now is a critical opportunity for all advocates to speak up!
Please take a moment to visit our streamlined advocacy center on NEA funding, and personalize an email to your Representative by providing a few key details about the impact of NEA funding on your community’s access to live performances, arts education, and cultural vibrancy. Emphasize that the agency needs the full funding recommended by the House Appropriations Committee this year and remind your Representative how essential the arts are to the health of your district!
ACT TODAY: Urge your Representative to Support and Protect the NEA’s FY16 Budget

Congress Moving Quickly: NEA FY16

June 18, 2015

Congress Moving Quickly: NEA FY16 Budget Advances

Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) may be up for consideration by the full U.S. House of Representatives as early as next week. Orchestras are contacting Congress as the House and Senate have been speedily determining spending priorities within the Interior Appropriations bill that funds the NEA.

Steady Progress So far
Bipartisan support for the NEA was evident in the spending levels approved this week by both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, which each approved $146 million in level funding for the NEA, even as the committees wrestled with the limitations of spending caps and decreased spending in other areas. Unlike recent years in which the House Subcommittee approved cuts of up to 49% of the NEA's budget, level funding was fully preserved during committee consideration this week. Provisions to increase the NEA's budget by $2 million, as requested by President Obama, were offered by Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) during House committee consideration on June 16, and by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) when the Senate committee met today, but did not receive approval by either committee. 

Potential for First Votes by Full House and Senate in Years
Broader budget stalemates have prevented individual spending bills from advancing to floor consideration in recent years, resulting in catch-all spending measures to keep the government in operation. This year the process takes on a new form, allowing more opportunities for funding to receive full consideration by all members of Congress. With one party controlling both the House and Senate, it is possible for bills to move through committee to floor consideration by each chamber, but the measures will face familiar barriers to completion as the White House and Congressional minority object to an array of controversial policy provisions. On the Senate side, Appropriations Committee members noted that this week is the first time an Interior funding bill has been passed by that committee since 2009. In the House, the last up-or-down vote related to NEA funding on the House floor took place in 2011. The House is likely to act soonest, with votes on the Interior bill possible as early as next week.

More Votes = More Advocacy
The League advocates on behalf of orchestras in support of NEA funding throughout the year. In March, we joined with Opera America in presenting Melia Tourangeau, President & CEO of the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, to offer testimony before the House Interior Subcommittee, and the next month, the League submitted its annual written testimony to the Senate, highlighting the work of orchestra grantees throughout the country. In advance of recent committee action, orchestras in the districts and states of House and Senate committee members have been telling their members of Congress how the NEA provides critical funding for projects that increase access to music in communities nationwide.

Orchestra advocates can use the League's advocacy center to weigh in with Congress and describe how NEA funding supports arts education for children and adults, expands public access to performances, and nurtures the creative endeavors of artists throughout the country.

The League will keep you informed of key advocacy opportunities as the timing for votes on NEA funding is confirmed!

Next Step in NEA Funding – Contact Your Senator Today!

June 16, 2015

Today the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee advanced a funding bill that includes level funding of $146 million in FY16 for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This mirrors action on the U.S. House side. The House Interior Subcommittee's recommendation on June 10 for level NEA funding was approved by the full House Appropriations Committee earlier today. Your Senator serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee and will play a key role in setting this year's NEA funding level when the Committee convenes this Thursday, June 18.

The total pool of funds available for the committee to allocate to various accounts is subject to budget caps that make all non-defense spending vulnerable to reductions. Orchestras and the broader arts community are requesting an FY16 budget of $155 million for the NEA.

The League advocates on behalf of orchestras in support of NEA funding throughout the year, and in April we submitted annual written testimony to the Senate, highlighting the work of orchestra grantees throughout the country. Today, the Senate Subcommittee agreed that any amendments to the Interior bill will considered when the full Committee gathers to debate the bill on Thursday. Now is the time for orchestra advocates to speak up and remind these key Senators how essential the NEA's support is to increasing access to music in communities nationwide.

Please use the League's online Advocacy Center to tell your Senator how important NEA funding is to your community and to the nation. Your voice matters!

Click Here Contact Your Senator Today!