Capitol changes should mean more photos and filming, not less

Union Square -- which includes the Capitol reflecting pool area and is located between 1st and 3rd Streets and Pennsylvania and Maryland Avenues -- was transferred to the AOC from NPS in the fiscal year 2012 omnibus spending bill. I went into the meetings with Capitol officials carrying a lot of unknowns and concerns from photographers, filmmakers, civil libertarians and the District of Columbia’s revenue-producing Office of Motion Picture and Television Development. Considering that commercial movies and photography are not allowed on Capitol grounds, would a jurisdictional change buried in an appropriations bill, without any hearings, close off access to another tax-supported public space in the nation’s capital? Each of the meetings left me greatly reassured, but Sergeant at Arms Gainer’s announcement made it real. The Capitol Police Board appears to understand the importance to the nation of a seamless transfer without policy disruption. 

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“But why should it end there?” I asked at the meetings with the AOC, the Senate Sergeant at Arms, the House Deputy Sergeant at Arms, the U.S. Capitol Police Chief, the heads of NPS and the Trust for the National Mall and District of Columbia government officials. I believe there is an opportunity hiding in this transfer anxious to get out. Now that the Capitol Police Board has all of the jurisdiction, this is the time to revisit the old 20th-century policy the Capitol has inherited that allows permits for commercial photography and filmmaking of the Capitol at only one spot, Union Square.

Today, news outlets and non-profits, among other exceptions, already film the Capitol from the Cannon front balcony and even certain places inside the Capitol grounds, without disruption to Capitol business. Vogue Magazine took photos of Meryl Streep, Senators Susan Collins and Barbara Mikulski, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and me, along with a couple of non-Members, on the hill behind the House side of the Capitol, and on the Senate steps. There are a number of areas that should be considered for commercial photography and movies on the street near Cannon, on Constitution Avenue near the Senate and on East Capitol St. and 1st St., where the new underground Capitol Visitor Center has recently opened a new, magnificent view of the Capitol.

The Capitol is among America’s most iconic vistas. More than any other, the people of the world know us and revere our system of government through commercial photography and films of the Capitol. These films and photographs amount to nothing less than free advertising that helps tell the nation’s story. Inside the Capitol, we don’t always put our best face forward. The photography and films viewed the world over never get it wrong.

Del. Norton (D-D.C.) serves on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.