Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

Norton Introduces Bill to Allow Commercial Filming on Capitol Grounds When Congress is Out of Session

Dec 19, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) introduced a bill today to permit commercial filming and photography on the U.S. Capitol Grounds beyond the area where it is currently permitted, Union Square, and when both chambers of Congress are out of session.  Norton’s bill would provide an economic and patriotic boost to the nation’s capital by allowing filmmakers to showcase the Capitol in its fullest authenticity to the nation and the rest of the world.  The expanded filming would be subject to the same terms and conditions as filming in Union Square.  Norton said her bill addresses any security concerns by giving Capitol Police full discretion to issue filming permits depending on the circumstances in and around the Capitol.  Norton’s bill is part of her effort to expand public access to public space, particularly around the Capitol.

“In our open and free democracy, it should be unthinkable to deny access to film one of our nation’s most iconic democratic symbols, the U.S. Capitol Building,” Norton said.  “It is neither business-friendly nor true to the nation’s democratic traditions to exclude filming of the Capitol and there is no justifiable policy or security reason to limit filming to Union Square.  Encouraging commercial photography and filming at the Capitol would help spread the story of our democracy and our national legislature around the world, while providing a boost to the District of Columbia’s economy.”

Norton’s introductory statement is below.

Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

On the Introduction of a bill to permit commercial filming and photography on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol

December 19, 2019

Today, I introduce a bill that would permit commercial filming and photography on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, beyond east of Union Square, the only area where such filming is currently authorized.  This bill would permit commercial filming and photography outside of the Capitol and congressional office buildings by permit, so long as both the House and Senate are not in session.  In many countries worldwide, freedom of expression is limited.  Our country should be the first to encourage commercial filming and photography of the Capitol, a symbol of U.S. democracy at work.  Commercial filmmakers should not have to go to other cities or fake capitol buildings for movies and films about the Capitol. 

The current policy permitting filming near the United States Botanic Garden shows that Capitol Police can handle filmmaking on Capitol grounds, especially when Congress is not in session, as my bill would provide.  However, filming from that vantage point captures the least familiar view of the Capitol.  Keeping filmmakers from standing in front of the Capitol is neither business-friendly nor true to the nation’s democratic traditions.  Encouraging commercial filming and photography at the Capitol would help spread the story of our national legislature around the world.  The time is overdue to allow commercial filming and photography of the exterior of the historic 19th-century Capitol. 

There is no good reason why commercial filming and photography should be confined to Union Square.  Specifically, my bill would give Capitol Police complete discretion to issue a permit authorizing commercial filming and photography under the same conditions as those in Union Square.  No policy or security reason exists to justify limiting commercial filming and photography of the Capitol complex to only one location, Union Square, especially considering that permits are necessary.  Visitors are regularly seen on East Capitol Street (east of 2nd Street) taking pictures, where they get a full view of the Capitol building, demonstrating the arbitrary nature of limiting commercial filming and photography to Union Square. 

This bill would also provide Capitol Police the authority to charge fees to cover any costs incurred by the Architect of the Capitol resulting from permit approval, to be deposited into the Capitol Trust Account. The Capitol Trust Account was established to accept proceeds from any fees collected for commercial filming and photography permits for Union Square.  Amounts in the Capitol Trust Account would be available without fiscal year limitation for maintenance, improvements and projects as the Architect of the Capitol considers appropriate, subject to the approval of the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate.

Views of the Capitol are among America’s most iconic.  Limiting commercial filming and photography of the Capitol, an important vehicle for telling the nation’s story, does not serve the American people.  Indeed, most of the world reveres our system of government largely through commercial films and photos of the Capitol, a symbol of our democracy at work.  Commercial films and photographs of the Capitol, the seat of our democracy, are perhaps the best modern vehicles for telling the nation’s story and showcasing its democratic system of government.  Republicans and Democrats alike revere the image of the Capitol as a symbol of patriotism.  My bill would enable appropriate, permitted commercial filming and photography of the Capitol, and would create economic benefits for the nation, the District of Columbia, and private business. 

I strongly urge my colleagues to support this bill.

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