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Government Relations Update

April 2013

State and federal overview

Washington, D.C.:

  • Rice continues governmental outreach
  • Sequestration and budget update 

Texas:

  • Leebron goes to Austin
  • New state opportunities
  • Texas Equalization Grant (TEG)
  • Advanced Research Program (ARP)
  • Texas College Work Study
  • Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT)
  • Concealed hand guns on campus

STATE AND FEDERAL OVERVIEW

Putting partisanship temporarily aside, Congress agreed on an appropriations measure to keep government operating through the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, but also reaffirming the sequestration spending cuts.  Congress returned from Easter recess April 8 to receive President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 (FY14) budget proposal. Over the recess President Barack Obama laid the groundwork for issues he planned to push during the April session, led by gun control and immigration reform. The Supreme Court also heard oral arguments on two same-sex marriage cases. Meanwhile, Rice continues to get better acquainted with its new alumnus in Congress, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., as well as building stronger ties with the Texas delegation and others.

The Texas Legislature is more than halfway through the session and Rice’s agenda appears to be in a solid position, subject to last minute developments. There was a flurry of activity with more than 964 new bills introduced in the last week before the filing deadline. The Texas biannual budget negotiation is underway, with the Senate and House passing their respective versions.  More details are below on how this impacts Rice. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) is on the top of many legislators’ agendas and Rice is actively engaged in the discussions about the future of the agency.  At this junction, there appears to be little willingness to revisit redistricting, again subject to last minute activity as the end of the session – sine die - scheduled for May 27 approaches. Updates will continue throughout the session.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Rice continues its outreach

Rice continues to build relationships with elected officials and Washington, D.C.-area alumni.  Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane and Government Relations Director Cory Kennedy met with Rice’s newest alumnus in Congress, Rep. Jim Bridenstine ’97, R-Okla., for well over an hour in March, among other Hill visits.  They joined President David Leebron and Trustee Bobby Tudor ‘82 Feb. 11 for dinner with Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, to discuss Rice’s energy research. Rep. Pete Olson ’85 was back on campus March 29 to throw out the first pitch at a Rice baseball game and watched the Owls defeat Tulane 6-3. That federal outreach is ongoing.

Sequestration and funding update

President Barack Obama and Congress agreed to a stopgap spending bill, called a continuing resolution, to keep the government running through the end of September. The measure leaves in place $85 billion in automatic budget cuts known as the sequester, but took steps to ease the impact of the cuts on food inspection and college assistance for active duty military personnel. To read past updates, click here.

The overall reductions will impact the following programs:

  • Defense discretionary: 7.8 percent   
  • Defense mandatory: 7.9 percent  
  • Non-defense discretionary: 5.0 percent  
  • Non-defense mandatory: 5.1 percent  

Note: Mandatory programs are set in law and do not require appropriations. Medicaid and Social Security are exempt; others are not, such as:

  • Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • Unemployment trust fund (impacts people unemployed for >26 weeks)

The preliminary calculations indicate the following funding levels which impact Rice: 

  • NASA: FY13 funding after sequestration is estimated to be $16.634 billion ($1.166 billion below FY12).
  • NSF: FY13 funding after sequestration is estimated to be $6.933 billion ($100 million below FY12).  This funding level includes $5.867 billion for research and related activities (a $216 million increase over FY12).  It is important to note that several agencies, including NIH, were funded through a CR mechanism in both bills and received very little, if any, protection from the sequester.  This means they will still receive the full 5 percent cut below the FY12 level.
  • NIST: FY13 funding after sequestration is estimated to be $834 million ($10 million over FY12).  The NIST budget also includes $20 million for additional centers of excellence and $627 million for NIST's scientific and technical research activities (a $60 million increase over FY12). 

With the continuing resolution now in place, Congress will begin the FY 14 appropriations process and look to find ways to lessen the impact of sequestration on many important programs. Rice will continue to work to protect programs vital to our institution.

TEXAS

President David Leebron goes to Austin

President David Leebron visited the Texas Capitol on March 26 to advocate on behalf of Rice’s legislative priorities. The day included meetings with Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus, Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.  Spending almost an hour each with Perry and Dewhurst, Leebron outlined the positive impact CPRIT has had on cancer research and how vital it is for recruiting world-class researchers to Texas. In addition, Leebron made a strong case for increased funding for the Tuition Equalization Grant (TEG) and the Advanced Research Program (ARP). The day concluded with an evening reception with more than 100 Austin area alumni who gathered for a panel discussion with Leebron, Texas Monthly Senior Editor Paul Burka ’63 and political science Professor Mark Jones.

New opportunities in Texas

Provost George McLendon testified before the House Technology Committee on Feb. 25 on ways the state of Texas could incentivize greater investment in university research and technology transfer. As a result of the hearing, Chairman Gary Elkins, R-Houston, introduced HB 2780, which would establish research technology corporations in institutions of higher education, including private schools like Rice. These corporations would be provided with certain tax breaks that would attract venture capitalists and others to invest in university research projects.  Rice Director of Technology Transfer Nila Bhakuni later joined representatives of the University of Texas and Texas A&M to help craft the bill. To read more about the progress of this legislation, click here.

Tuition Equalization Grant (TEG)

Rice continues to make the case for protecting the TEG program. Rice joined with St. Thomas University and Texas Southern School of Law in early March to bring students to the Capitol to make the case for TEG. Students Rebecca Isaac, Dimitri Mayes and James Dargan told lawmakers how TEG funds made it possible for them to attend a school like Rice. To learn more about Isaac’s personal story, read her Rice News essay The Way I See It: The Importance of the Texas Equalization Grant, by clicking here

While the Senate bill funds TEG at current levels, the House increased funding by $15 million. The bill will now head to a conference committee. To read previous reports on the TEG, click here.

Advanced Research Program (ARP)

Rice’s Nobel Prize winner Robert Curl has been leading efforts to protect the Norman Hackerman Advanced Research Program (ARP). As you may recall from the last legislative session, Rice was successful in saving the program from being eliminated, and efforts this session have been focused on increasing funding.

Curl was joined by University of Texas at Austin student Brian Wilson for a day of lobbying about the importance of the program. Besides being recognized on the House floor by Texas Speaker Joe Straus, Curl met with Rice’s state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, House Higher Education Committee Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, Rice’s state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and many other lawmakers.  As a result of these efforts, the House has increased ARP from $1 million to $3 million and the Senate has added $1 million, with an additional $7 million requested as a “wish list” item. To read about ARP, click here.

Texas College Work Study

The Texas College Work Study Program was created in 1989 by the Legislature to provide needy students with part‐time jobs, funded in part by the state and the employer. The House has added an additional $5 million to the program, while the Senate made no change from the previous biennium. To read more about this program, click here.

Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT)

As lawmakers continue the investigation into CPRIT, Rice continues to work to protect the important program. While CPRIT still has wide support, lawmakers are insisting on additional regulations and accountability measures before the moratorium on grants is lifted.  The Senate has passed a reform bill introduced by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, that includes tighter controls and limitations on grants, more stringent reporting requirements and measures to prevent conflicts of interest. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

In the meantime, in a positive development, Gov. Rick Perry has released funding for 25 previously approved recruitment grants that have been held up since the moratorium was imposed. However, in addition to the legislative investigation, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has started a criminal investigation. To read more about the moratorium click here; to read more about the approval of the recruitment grants, click here.

Concealed handguns on campus

Campus carry legislation remains in a holding pattern in both the House and Senate. HB 972, sponsored by Rep. Fletcher, R-Tomball, is pending before the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. SB 182, sponsored by Sen. Birdwell, R-Granbury, is pending in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Both bills include language that allows private and independent universities to opt-out of the concealed carry requirement. Every week that goes by without committee action makes it less likely the bills will pass.