NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Congress has sent President Barack Obama a bill that would lift a $30 million federal spending limit for the national federal research chimpanzee sanctuary in northwest Louisiana.

The bill’s final passage came when the Senate accepted House amendments to an unrelated health bill on Thursday. One amendment would let the U.S. health secretary override the cap if that would cut money spent to house all chimpanzees owned by the National Institutes of Health.

“It’s a great day for federally owned chimpanzees,” said Cathy Willis Spraetz, president and CEO of Chimp Haven in Keithville, La., the national sanctuary for chimpanzees retired from federal research.

“I am breaking out the champagne as we speak,” she said. “We are so excited to start this new chapter in the lives of these federally owned chimpanzees who have spent decades of their lives in research. It’s now time to bring ’em home to sanctuary.”

Both a stand-alone Senate Chimp Act amendment voted on Oct. 30 and the bill that passed Tuesday in the House are bipartisan and were approved unopposed, by voice vote. Also passed by voice vote were Senate approvals of riders on a bill reauthorizing a program for research into the causes of premature birth and education for women likely to give birth.

“It’s another remarkable day in a remarkable year for the chimpanzees — they have amazing support from all corners,” Kathleen Conlee, vice president for animal research issues for The Humane Society of the United States, wrote in an email Thursday night.

NIH has been paying 75 percent of the cost to keep chimps retired from federal research at Chimp Haven.

The institute said in June that it is ending most medical research on chimpanzees and will retire more than 300 of them.

That’s in addition to 60 scheduled to come to Chimp Haven, starting in January, from a New Iberia lab which did not renew its federal chimpanzee research contract.

NIH owns nearly all the 163 animals now at Chimp Haven; the sanctuary covers the entire $13,000 a year cost per animal for 14 privately owned animals. A study commissioned by The Humane Society has estimated annual costs of housing alone for research chimpanzees at $21,900 per animal.

The Chimp Act amendments set total annual caps on spending to support federally owned chimpanzees, starting at $12.4 million — current spending — for fiscal 2014 and dropping each year to $9.4 million in fiscal 2018.

Although Chimp Haven is the only sanctuary currently designated for NIH’s retired chimpanzees, other sanctuaries could be added to the system.

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