Norton Introduces Bill to Ensure Public Access to Public Buildings and Grounds in the Nation’s Capital and Across the Country
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, four weeks after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) reintroduced her United States Commission on an Open Society with Security Act, which would establish a national commission of experts from a broad spectrum of disciplines to investigate how to maintain our democratic traditions of openness and access while responding adequately to the security threats posed by terrorism. The bill authorizes a 21-member commission, with the president designating nine members and the House and Senate leadership each designating six members, to investigate the balance between openness and security. Members of the commission must come from diverse fields, including security, architecture, technology, sociology, psychology, military, city planning, business, engineering and history. Norton began working on the bill after Pennsylvania Avenue was closed and ugly security barriers first began to emerge in the District of Columbia following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The events of 9/11 and the attack on the Capitol have made this bill even more urgent.
Norton reintroduced this bill after Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman recently recommended permanent fencing at the Capitol complex and refused to allow sledding at the Capitol during the recent snowstorm. Norton sent a letter to the U.S. Capitol Police Board opposing permanent fencing and also had called on the Capitol Police to allow sledding at the Capitol, a favorite sledding site for many D.C. residents, during the recent snowstorm. Each year, Norton gets a provision included in the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill authorizing sledding at the Capitol.
In her introductory statement, Norton said, “Security is not only about reducing lives lost and dollars cost. It is also about safeguarding the institutions, freedoms and values that anchor our country, not only for ourselves but for future generations. The social compact between government and the people should not be the result of a series of hostage negotiations.
“We cannot allow security protocols to proliferate without informed civilian oversight and a thorough analysis of alternatives that might better safeguard freedom and commerce.
“As the home of our federal government, the District of Columbia’s residents have suffered a disproportionate infringement on public spaces, personal rights and freedoms in the name of security… Barriers such as walls and fences are touted as essential security features while our citizens are left peering at their democracy from a distance.”
Norton’s introductory statement can be viewed here.