Rep. Burton puts forth bill to wrap House chamber in protective glass

Since 1857, when the House moved to its present location in the Capitol, visitors and press have been afforded direct observation of floor action from a balcony that circumscribes the chamber.

If Congress decides to implement a bill proposed by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) that would wrap the balcony in a protective wall of glass, visitors and press could be forced, for the first time in U.S. history, to view the House through windows and listen to legislative action through the electronic filter of an audio system.

Burton, who says he has been calling for this safety measure for 20 years, warned that in the age of technologically advanced terrorists it would be prudent to construct a “protective barrier” against explosives, bullets, anthrax or other projectiles that could be launched from the balcony, Burton told The Hill.

“It seems prudent to have something that prevents one crazy guy from throwing something down on the floor and killing a bunch of lawmakers,” said Burton. “The House Chamber is the one place where so many of our country's leaders and leaders of the world are together for events like the State of the Union.”

The balcony is currently divided into separate galleries that bear historical names such as press, ladies, gentleman, member’s card gallery, executive, diplomat and others.

Whether an exception might be made for the press gallery or for other galleries would have to be determined by House leadership, said Burton.

“That’s something the leadership would have to decide,” said Burton. “I just don't know. If someone gets a press pass, well I just don’t know. There ought to be precaution taken.”

Meanwhile Burton acknowledged he faces an uphill battle in getting the legislation passed.

“If it’s like the past, everyone will say there is nothing to worry about and everything is fine,” said Burton.

This is not the first time ambitious measures have been suggested to protect the House from external attack. During World War I, mannequins were placed on the roof of the Capitol to give the impression of tighter security. During World War II the skylights in the ceiling of the chamber were papered over to confound a potential German air raid. And in 2008 the Capitol completed a $621 million visitor's center designed, in part, to give Capitol Police a better facility to screen visitors.