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H.R. 1986: Federal Bird Safe Buildings Act of 2021


Unfortunately, the legislation still wouldn’t do anything to protect birds from Randy Johnson baseball pitches.

Context

A 2014 study by a team of scientists for The Condor, a peer-reviewed journal of ornithology, estimated that between 100 million and 1 billion U.S. birds are killed by building collisions annually.

Construction practices can reduce this number, such as adding design patterns to glass so birds are more likely to realize it’s a solid surface and avoid it. Plus certain building materials are less likely to kill birds upon collision.

Several major American cities have enacted measures to make buildings safer for birds in recent years, including New York City in December 2019Chicago in April 2020, and Philadelphia in March 2021.

What the legislation does

The Federal Bird Safe Buildings Act would require that any new federal buildings, or “significantly altered” existing ones, use bird-friendly building materials and design features.

Several exemptions are carved out for particularly historic or famous buildings, including the White House, Capitol Building, Supreme Court, and anything listed on the National Register of Historic Places, such as the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.

The House version was introduced on March 17 as H.R. 1986, by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL5). The Senate version was introduced the same day as S. 791, by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the legislation follows an increasing trend by localities, getting the federal government on board with a good ecological cause.

“Almost one third of American bird species are currently endangered and fatal collisions with built infrastructure is a significant cause,” Rep. Quigley said in a press release. “We have a responsibility to prevent as many of these deaths as possible.”

“As more and more cities across the country… adopt policies and practices to prevent bird-building collisions, the federal government must step up and do its share,” Rep. Quigley continued. “We can help set an example for the country and the world and prove that bird-safe building design is cheap, easy, and effective.”

“Over the course of the last 50 years we have seen a tragic decline of more than 25 percent of birds in North America with climate change, habitat loss, and deforestation acting as the leading drivers,” Sen. Booker said in the same press release. “With [this legislation] we have an opportunity to prevent a substantial number of unnecessary bird deaths by incorporating low cost bird-safe building materials and design features into our federal buildings.”

What opponents say

Opponents could counter that the bill would be yet another government mandate that could raise construction costs.

“At some point, we have to realize we are putting a high cost on everything in this city, so we can’t complain when we think of housing as unaffordable,” Staten Island Republican Joe Borelli told the New York Post in explanation of his vote against New York City’s 2019 proposal. Borelli was in the small minority, as the measure passed the City Council by 43–3.

Odds of passage

The House included the Federal Bird Safe Buildings Act into the 2,705-page Moving Forward Act of 2020, which the Democratic-led chamber passed 233–138 largely on party lines, but never received a vote in the then-Republican controlled Senate. Republican opposition was centered on other provisions.

The current standalone version has attracted three bipartisan House cosponsors, two Democrats and one Republican. It awaits a potential vote in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

That’s actually far fewer cosponsors than Rep. Quigley’s previous iterations earned, including 27 bipartisan cosponsors in 2015 (25 Democrats and two Republicans), 27 bipartisan cosponsors in 2017 (24 Democrats and three Republicans), and 46 bipartisan cosponsors in 2019 (42 Democrats and four Republicans). The reason for the cosponsorship decline so far in 2021 is unclear.

The Senate version has not yet attracted any cosponsors. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Last updated May 14, 2021. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Mar 17, 2021.


Federal Bird Safe Buildings Act of 2021

This bill requires the General Services Administration (GSA) to develop and implement strategies for reducing bird fatalities from collisions with public buildings.

Specifically, the GSA must incorporate relevant features and strategies into public buildings that are newly constructed, acquired, or substantially altered so as to reduce bird fatalities. The GSA must also develop a related design guide and annually certify its active use. The bill's provisions do not apply to buildings and sites on the National Register of Historic Places, the White House and its grounds, the Supreme Court building and its grounds, or the U.S. Capitol and any buildings on its grounds.