Broadcasters Might See Win in Spending Bill, Boozman Says

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By Nancy Ognanovich

May 20 — The nation's broadcasters could score a win in the Financial Services bill that is currently under development at the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said.

Boozman, chairman of the Appropriations financial services subcommittee, said he is working with other members of the panel to address industry dissatisfaction with recent developments affecting joint sales agreements—for advertising—between broadcast stations in the same market. He said language clarifying congressional intent on the matter could make its way into the annual Financial Services spending bill that might be unveiled in June.

Boozman said a bipartisan effort is underway to fine-tune language in last December's omnibus appropriations package that was intended to allow some broadcasters with JSAs to keep them through 2025. Lawmakers in both parties have complained about a recent Federal Communications Commission decision that they said runs counter to their intent.

“Nothing's for sure, but it's something I'm very concerned about,” Boozman told reporters when asked about whether JSA language will be in the bill. “I would like to clean that language up. The intent is very, very plain as to what we're going to do.”

FCC Criticized

The FCC put rules in place in 2014 that prohibited the use of such agreements between broadcast stations in the same market and thereby made it harder for stations to sell advertising. However, appropriators subsequently included a provision in the fiscal year 2016 omnibus (Pub. L. No. 114-113) to allow broadcasters with the agreements in effect before the rule was adopted to keep them through 2025 (See previous story, 12/17/15).

That provision was seen as a major win for the National Association of Broadcasters, one of the top lobbying spenders, which represents for-profit radio and television broadcasters such as CBS Corp. and Univision Communications Inc. In the first quarter of 2016 alone NAB reported lobbying expenditures of $4.7 million.

But industry was disappointed with a subsequent FCC decision denying Gray TV the ability to continue a JSA when it acquired several TV stations in the Wichita, Kansas, market. The FCC’s reasoning was that the transaction would have resulted in a new JSA, which are no longer allowed by the FCC.

Boozman and other appropriators made clear their disappointment with the FCC's decision in a March 11 letter and said it shouldn't use reviews to undermine lawmakers'“clear intent” to preserve JSAs that were enacted before the change. Among the 12 lawmakers on the letter were Senate Appropriations ranking member Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and committee members Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Boozman said the Financial Services bill is also likely to contain items to help other industries, particularly community banks. He said he is working closely with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) as well as other lawmakers on such provisions.

“We're looking at a bunch of different things from Sen. Shelby and several other people as to what would be appropriate to put in there and, again, get the votes we need to go forward,” Boozman said.

House Bill Moving First

Boozman, however, said he doesn't expect the bill to be unveiled soon.

“We're going to be one of the last,” Boozman said when asked about the markup schedule for the 12 fiscal 2017 appropriations bills. The schedule calls for all measures to move by the time the House and Senate depart for the political conventions July 15.

“I'm not sure they're sure,” Boozman said of Republican leaders' plans. “But we're getting our bill together so we'll be ready to go.”

The House version of the spending bill is being prepared for markup the week of May 23. The House Appropriations Committee said the financial services subcommittee chaired by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) will mark up the bill on May 25. The draft showing that bill's legislative riders is expected to be released on May 24.

With assistance from Lydia Beyoud.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com