Budget Deal on the Horizon
Upon returning from the Thanksgiving recess, the chairs of the House and Senate Budget committees, Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray, resumed discussions over spending levels and sequestration. The latest news is that the two members are just a couple billion dollars away in budgetary savings from reaching an agreement. Reports indicate that it will include partial relief from sequestration, which would be evenly split between defense and non-defense. With next Friday being the deadline that was established, both leading negotiators plan to work through the weekend.
University of Illinois President Robert Easter is leading an Illinois delegation letter—signed by the Presidents of Northwestern University, Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, and Western Illinois University—urging our Senators and Representatives to support a bipartisan budget deal that brings sequestration relief to our research and education enterprise.
‘Innovation Act’ Passes House
Over the opposition of research universities, the House of Representatives approved legislation Thursday to deter “patent trolls,” individuals that do not manufacture products, but sue accused infringers in an attempt to collect fees. The legislation is a top priority for the high-tech community. While UI and our national associations supported its broad goals, the bill was written in such a way that it could significantly weaken the university’s ability to defend its patents and make it more difficult to commercialize breakthrough ideas. Specifically, the bill makes it more likely that universities will be roped into meritless litigation initiated by others, yet still be liable for costs and damages. Of UI’s local representatives, Rep. Danny Davis voted against the bill, while Rep. Rodney Davis supported it. OGR will continue to work with our higher education associations and the office of Sen. Dick Durbin to ensure that the Senate version (S. 1720, the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act) better advances our interests. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the bill on Dec. 17.
TRANSFER Act Moving
Also on Thursday, the House Science, Space & Technology Committee held a mark-up of H.R. 2981, the Technology and Research Accelerating National Security and Future Economic Resiliency (TRANSFER) Act of 2013. It passed the Committee easily by voice vote. Congressman Dan Lipinski is the author of this bipartisan legislation which creates grant opportunities for proof-of-concept funding at universities to accelerate commercialization of federally-funded research. It has the endorsement of the university community.
Farm Bill Update
House and Senate Agriculture Committee leadership met on Wednesday to continue sorting out differences between the two Farm Bills. Speaker John Boehner mentioned later this week that the Farm Bill should be extended through January since he hasn't "seen any real progress." Without a reauthorization or extension, some dairy subsidies would set to expire with the start of the new year, causing milk prices to jump.
New Financial Aid Website Goes Live
The "Financial Aid Toolkit" is a new website recently launched by the Department of Education's office of Federal Student Aid. It is meant for guidance counselors, college access advisers, community-based organizations, and librarians in their efforts to help students access information about financial aid. It contains a searchable online library of resources that encompass the entire financial aid lifecycle.
ILLINOIS IN WASHINGTON
Director Rob Finley and Assistant Director Sallie Greenberg of the Advanced Energy Technology Initiative at the Illinois State Geological Survey were in DC on Tuesday. They met with the offices of Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Mark Kirk to update staff on the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium's carbon capture and storage research. With discussions about fiscal year 2015 appropriations right around the corner, Rob and Sallie stressed the importance of protecting carbon sequestration funding lines.
Jon Pyatt and Melissa Haas
OGR Federal Relations