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Public Policy Report for 1 July 2013

Senate-Passed Immigration Bill to Reform Visas for Scientists

Sweeping immigration reform legislation passed by the Senate would create a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., and would change the immigration system for foreign-born researchers.

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) would remove numerical limitations on immigration for people who have earned a Ph.D. in the U.S. or abroad, or have extraordinary skills as professors or researchers. The legislation would also open immigration for people who graduate from an American university with a Master’s degree or Ph.D. in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) and have an offer of employment in that field. Not all science degrees would qualify, however. Degrees in agricultural sciences, natural resources conservation, linguistics, and social sciences would not be eligible.

The legislation also promises to increase funding for STEM education and job training. Employers who sponsor high-skilled temporary workers would have to pay a larger fee, a portion of which would be directed to a special STEM fund. That money would be used to recruit more science teachers for grades K-12, fund grants to minority groups, and improve community college and job training programs. The new fund could generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year for STEM education.

S. 744 passed the Senate with the bipartisan support of 68 Senators.

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House Rejects Farm Bill

A few days after the Senate passed legislation to reform agricultural policy, the House of Representatives rejected its version of the farm bill. Representatives killed H.R. 1947 by a vote of 195 ayes to 234 nays.

The failure of the bill in the House led to plenty of partisan finger pointing. Republicans claimed that Democrats promised to deliver enough votes to pass the bill, but did not follow through on that promise. Democrats complained that the majority party poisoned the bill by slashing $20.5 billion (about two percent) from the food stamp program and allowing two controversial amendments to receive votes.

Although the House and Senate bills differed in terms of total authorizations for farm subsidy, conservation, rural energy, and nutrition assistance programs, the legislation contained many similar research policy provisions.

In the House, more than 50 amendments were considered during floor debate. Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) successfully offered an amendment that would create a task force on pollinator health. Rep. Kaptur also sponsored a provision that would require the Department of Agriculture to report annually on what invasive species are in the U.S., where they originated, the economic and environmental impacts, and ongoing research to address the invasive species.

House leaders are now considering what actions to take to advance the farm bill. The House could revise its legislation, take up the Senate passed bill, or start negotiations with the Senate on a compromise. Lawmakers must act before 30 September 2013, when the current farm bill will expire.

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Congress Advances Funding Bills For Agriculture, Energy

Tensions remain high in Congress over federal spending. The most recent example of this disagreement between the two parties is fiscal year 2014 appropriations. Last week, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved bills to fund the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy. Due to a disagreement on overall government spending in the upcoming fiscal year, the bills set vastly different funding levels for the departments and research programs.

With respect to agricultural research, the Senate would increase science funding relative to current funding levels, whereas the House would maintain roughly flat funding. Notably, both proposals fall short of President Obama’s budget request for agriculture programs. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would receive $1.1 billion, a $51 million increase, in the Senate bill. The House legislation recommends flat funding ARS. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) would receive a $75 million increase to $1.3 billion if the Senate mark were enacted. The Senate would also increase funding by 9 percent for NIFA’s competitively awarded, extramural research program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). Conversely, NIFA and AFRI would be essentially flat funded under the House bill.

For the Department of Energy Office of Science, the Senate would increase funding by $287 million to $5.2 billion next year. According to a summary of the bill by the Senate Appropriations Committee: “The highest priorities are materials and biological research to focus on breakthroughs in energy applications and computing to develop the next-generation high performance systems.” Funding for biological research would increase by $15.2 million to $625.3 million. Conversely, the House legislation would cut funding for the Office of Science by $223 million to $4.7 billion. The Biological and Environmental Research program would be cut by 21.5 percent to $494.1 million, by far the largest cut proposed for any Office of Science research program.

Both bills are awaiting consideration by their respective full chambers. Fiscal year 2014 starts on 1 October 2013.

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House Bill Would Deemphasize NOAA's Ocean and Climate Research

The House Science Committee is considering legislation that would prioritize weather forecasting over ocean and climate research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). H.R. 2413 would not provide new funds to support a NOAA initiative to improve forecasting of tornados to an hour or more or to improve prediction of hurricanes or other severe weather events. Instead, the legislation would require NOAA to make “weather-related activities the top priority in the planning and management of programs within all relevant line offices,” according to the text of the bill. This essentially means that all other NOAA activities would likely be cut.

The “Weather Forecasting Improvement Act” is sponsored by Representative Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), a freshman lawmaker who serves on the House Science Committee. Two NOAA weather forecasting facilities are located in his district, including a forecast center that models the Arkansas-Red Basin River. The bill was the focus of two recent hearings by the panel.

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NIH to Reduce Use of Chimps in Biomedical Research

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) plans to decrease the use of chimpanzees in its research and to retire most of the animals it currently supports. Only 50 chimpanzees will be retained for future research. The animals will be kept in “ethologically appropriate facilities.” A review panel will also be established to consider research projects proposing the use of chimps. Existing research that does not meet guidelines established by the Institute of Medicine will wind down.

In its announcement, NIH signaled its agreement to most of the recommendations made by the NIH Council of Councils in January 2013. That report called for the retirement of nearly all of the 451 chimps owned or supported by NIH; the animals would be moved to sanctuaries. NIH previously agreed to retire over one hundred chimpanzees.

“Americans have benefitted greatly from the chimpanzees’ service to biomedical research, but new scientific methods and technologies have rendered their use in research largely unnecessary,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of NIH. “After extensive consideration with the expert guidance of many, I am confident that greatly reducing their use in biomedical research is scientifically sound and the right thing to do.”

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Action Alert: Ask Your Governor to Support Science Education

In a competitive and increasingly knowledge-based global economy, students must have the skills and education necessary to succeed.

The recently released Next Generation Science Standards represent a collaborative, state-led effort to develop comprehensive and integrated science curriculum standards for grades K-12 across the nation. Twenty-six partner states, in conjunction with the National Research Council, have collaborated to design an internationally benchmarked education framework based on the most current research in science and science-learning.

Please consider expressing your support for strong science standards. It will only take a minute to send a letter to your governor about the importance of adopting the Next Generation Science Standards.

Take action at http://capwiz.com/aibs/issues/alert/?alertid=62755406. More information on the standards can be found at http://www.nextgenscience.org/next-generation-science-standards.

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Deadline Approaching: Register for the Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is proud to announce that it is partnering with the Entomological Society of America to present the 5th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event.

This national initiative is an opportunity for biologists across the country to meet with their federal or state elected officials to showcase the people, facilities, and equipment that are required to support and conduct scientific research.

The 5th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event will be held throughout the month of August 2013. This event is an opportunity for scientists, graduate students, representatives of research facilities, and people affiliated with scientific collections to meet with their elected officials without traveling to Washington, DC. Participants may either invite their elected officials to visit their research facility or can meet at the policymaker’s local office.

Participants will be prepared for their meeting with a lawmaker through an interactive training webinar. Individuals participating in this event will receive information about improving their communication skills, tips for conducting a successful meeting with an elected official, and information about federal funding for biological research.

The event is made possible by the American Institute of Biological Sciences and Entomological Society of America, with the support of event sponsors American Society of Naturalists, Botanical Society of America, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Organization of Biological Field Stations, and Society for the Study of Evolution.

Participation is free, but registration will close on 15 July 2013. For more information and to register, visit www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionaldistrictvisits.html.

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Short Takes

  • The White House has released a "National Biosurveillance Science and Technology Roadmap" to identify and prioritize research and development to protect the public from biological threats. Among the recommendations are establishing baseline levels of community and ecosystem risks and health, and focusing research on forecasting technologies and models that consider ecological and evolutionary drivers of disease impact. Learn more at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/06/17/rd-roadmap-points-way-biological-preparedness.

  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has approved a merger of its Technology and Research subcommittees into a single subpanel. According to Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) the action "decreases the Science Committee's costs but does not decrease the committee's jurisdiction."

  • The federal government is requesting information on high-impact collaborative efforts on big data and potential areas of expanded collaboration between the public and private sectors. Learn more at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-06-21/html/2013-14746.htm.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center today! (www.aibs.org/public-policy/legislativeactioncenter.html)

The AIBS Legislative Action Center is an online resource that allows biologists and science educators to quickly and effectively influence policy and public opinion. Each day lawmakers must make tough decisions about science policy. For example, what investments to make in federal research programs, how to conserve biodiversity, how to mitigate climate change, or under what circumstances to permit stem cell research. Scientists now have the opportunity to help elected officials understand these issues. These exciting new advocacy tools allows individuals to quickly and easily communicate with members of Congress, executive branch officials, and selected media outlets.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Entomological Society of America, Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to http://capwiz.com/aibs/home/ to send a prepared letter or to sign up to receive periodic Action Alerts.

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