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Home » Officer Columns » Executive Board Members » 2015 Office of Government Relations Review and Look Ahead for 2016

2015 Office of Government Relations Review and Look Ahead for 2016


As noted in the December International Musician, 2015 was an incredibly active year for the AFM Office of Government Relations (OGR). The year began with the finalization of a benchmark musical instrument carry-on regulation and ended with another historic accomplishment, the inclusion of music as a “core subject” in federal education legislation.

New Musical Instrument Carry-on Rules

After years of negotiating and lobbying, the AFM, in partnership with the airline carry-on coalition, marked the implementation of a final rule from the Department of Transportation regarding musical instruments as carry-on and checked baggage. The new rule was the result of legislative language included in Section 403 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. As of March 6, 2015, musicians are allowed to bring certain musical instruments in-cabin on US carriers. The rule clearly outlines carry-on and checked baggage procedures.

The AFM developed two manuals to help members navigate the process: A Guide to Traveling with Musical Instruments can be found on by logging into “myAFM,” then clicking the “Document Library” tab, and opening the “Legislative Office” folder. This desktop copy was designed to help AFM members understand domestic carry-on requirements and regulations for traveling internationally with instruments that contain CITES related materials. In addition, a pocket-sized handbook, developed in cooperation with the Carry-on Coalition, can be downloaded at:

Performance Rights

On April 13, 2015, Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced H.R. 1733 the Fair Play Fair Pay Act of 2015. The bill primarily provides a performance right (royalty) to artist-creators whose music is performed on AM-FM or “terrestrial” radio. The bill also provides federal copyright protections for sound recordings made before February 15, 1972.

Nadler explains: “The current system is antiquated and broken. It pits technologies against each other, and allows certain services to get away with paying little or nothing to artists. For decades, AM/FM radio has used whatever music it wants without paying a cent to the musicians, vocalists, and labels that created it. Satellite radio has paid below market royalties for the music it uses, growing into a multi-billion dollar business on the back of an illogical ‘grandfathered’ royalty standard that is now almost two decades old.” We continue to work with the musicFIRST Coalition seeking co-sponsors for the bill.

CITES International Treaty

Working with our coalition partners, the AFM lobbied for protections for musicians traveling internationally with musical instruments containing CITES related materials, namely African elephant ivory and tortoise shell. Our direct talks with the US Department of the Interior and with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) saw significant progress in the treatment of musicians traveling abroad.

The USFWS introduced a new Musical Instrument Passport specific to the needs of professional musicians. It allows musicians to travel multiple times in and out of the US with their affected instruments. Additional information regarding travel requirements can be found in The AFM Guide to Traveling with Your Musical Instrument (available as noted in paragraph 3).

Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty

The AFM, along with other labor organizations, was actively involved in debating the outcome of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). As members of the Department of Labor, Labor Advisory Committee (LAC), AFM President Ray Hair and I served as cleared advisors who met with the Secretary of Labor, the US Trade Representative, and White House staff. Our primary concern was protection of US intellectual property and copyright law, in addition to strong labor protections for workers in the 11 TPP partner countries. Though organized labor publicly objected to the treaty, the AFM did help secure copyright and IP provisions that do no harm to US copyright protections.

Unfortunately, the treaty falls short in the area of worker protections. Signing onto the final LAC Report on the Impacts of the TPP ( the AFM supports the labor movement’s concerns over its promotion of trade rules that enhance the already formidable economic and political power of global corporations. The TPP does not put working families front and center when it comes to job promotion and security, does not encourage freedom of worker association in countries like Vietnam, and could, over time, increase the US Trade deficit  similar to the way other trade agreements have. (AFM Canada also rejects TPP as outlined by AFM Vice President from Canada Alan Willaert’s November 2015 IM column.)

ACA 40% “Cadillac Tax”

The AFM has been working with the AFL-CIO Legislative Committee Healthcare Taskforce, as well as the Department for Professional Employees, to eliminate the 40% Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) tax on premium healthcare plans, similar to many union-negotiated plans. Starting in 2018, the tax imposes on insurers an annual 40% excise tax on plans with annual premiums exceeding $10,200 (individual) or $27,500 (family).

At this writing, congressional negotiators have proposed a two-year deferment of the implementation of the tax. Because of the exorbitant, unsustainability of the tax, the AFM has joined with other AFL-CIO affiliates working to stop its implementation. This does not mean that the union does not support other provisions of the ACA, as there are many measures in the bill that benefit our members.

O and P Visas

The OGR has been working closely with AFM Canada and the AFM visa processing office in New York in an effort to expedite O-1 and P-2 visas for artists traveling to the US. Much of the delay in the processing of visas has occurred in the Vermont Service Center. We have worked with the Visa Processing Coalition here in the US promoting the Arts Require Timely Service (ARTS) Act, while working with congressional offices to push for resolutions, in addition to  legislative proposals. Processing times have run as long as 90 days. This is unacceptable.

Musicians have lost work due to delayed processing times and have lost both regular processing and premium processing fees. We are working directly with several members of the House and Senate to push both for legislation and regulatory assistance. We are hopeful that a resolution will come soon as the livelihood of our members takes priority.

Every Student Succeeds Act

On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law. It establishes music and the arts as “core subjects” in American education. The bill replaces the No Child Left Behind Act. (For more details on ESSA see page 6.)

AFM President’s Work in Washington, DC

This past year AFM President Ray Hair has made legislative and regulatory issues in Washington, DC, a priority. He traveled to the nation’s capital on three separate occasions to promote the concerns of AFM membership. Early in the year, he testified at the Copyright Royalty Board promoting performance rights parity. Later, he traveled to the capitol to engage in dialogue with National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chair Dr. Jane Chu and Dr. John Hasse, curator of American music at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Important visits to Congressional Arts leaders included Congressional Arts Caucus Chair Louise Slaughter and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member and AFM Local 30-73 (Minneapolis-Twin Cities, MN) Member Collin Peterson.

Hair also approved AFM participation in the House Creative Rights Caucus “Beyond the Red Carpet” Movie and TV Magic Showcase on Capitol Hill. The caucus is co-chaired by Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA) and Doug Collins (R- GA). The AFM manned a booth at the event, which attracted more than 500 members of Congress, staffers, and outside guests.

Many other issues, including pension legislation, NLRA Tribal Sovereignty, the WAGE Act, and more, were addressed during the year. Members of Congress and federal department heads and staff continue to support AFM issues and efforts.

Looking Forward in 2016

Work will continue finding cosponsors for the HR 1733, the Fair Play Fair Pay Act. In 2016, the AFM will continue organization efforts, such as previous calls from AFM President Hair for musicians to write to their members of Congress.

The AFM will continue to support the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and remain vigilant for any attempt to weaken funding or dismantle the program.

Expediting O and P visas will remain at the top of the agenda as the OGR works with AFM Canada and our Traveling and Touring office to move federal legislation or enact common sense regulatory proposals to help resolve delays. The AFM will work alongside various coalitions, as well as encourage members of Congress to move the process forward.

Because 2016 is a national election year, the AFM OGR will provide information on political party platforms, as well as details about presidential candidates and their positions on arts and entertainment issues. Organized efforts to help members understand where federal elected leaders stand on issues of importance to our livelihood will allow members to make qualified choices at the ballot box. Member activism will go a long way to help support our lobbying efforts in Washington, DC, throughout the year and will serve to build support for legislative issues outlined during 2016 Arts Advocacy Day activities.

Beginning in February 2016, TEMPO Signature Program members will engage in monthly conference calls to discuss the legislative and political priorities of the union. Outcomes and recommendations from those calls will be shared with AFM members through the International Musician.

Finally, the AFM OGR will develop a new Voter Guide that outlines individual congressional votes on legislation important to our members. This booklet will be available in early spring, informing members on how their legislators have voted.

We encourage you to participate in our legislative efforts and thank you for your support of the work this office does. For more information contact me at

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