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Eleanor Holmes Norton Pushes for Language Allowing Filming on Capitol Grounds

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is among the latest group of lawmakers pushing appropriators to consider inserting new language into the anticipated six-month stopgap measure to float the government through March 2013.

Her priority? Securing commercial filming and photography rights in Union Square, the parcel of land beyond the West Front of the Capitol.

Union Square was, until the winter of 2011, under National Park Service jurisdiction. It was the only place on Capitol grounds where commercial filmmakers and photographers were permitted to collect footage.

But putting the land under Congress’ control left the future of such filming uncertain. Shortly after the handoff, the Capitol Police Board agreed to grandfather-in the old NPS policy relating to commercial filming. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee and the full House have endorsed versions of the legislative branch appropriations bill for fiscal 2013 that would write the policy into law.

If House and Senate leadership makes good on its agreement to extend existing funding levels and provisions through the first half of fiscal 2013, however, the opportunity to seize on a rare bicameral and bipartisan agreement on an important issue might be lost. Norton wants to erase any uncertainty for present and future filmmakers and photographers seeking shoots at Union Square.

“I write now to encourage you to avoid a delay in implementing your decision,” Norton wrote in a recent letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate legislative branch subcommittees. “The priority that you have given this matter, and what we have learned from our own discussions with affected agencies, reinforces the importance of this request to thousands of Americans, to visitors and to commercial photographers and filmmakers who depend upon access to this site.”

Norton also said in the letter that she hopes appropriators will consider expanding commercial filming and photography rights to other areas across the Capitol campus. D.C. has an Office of Motion Picture and Television Development whose director, Crystal Palmer, has indicated in the past that allowing permits for shots of the historic structure and grounds would be a boon for the local economy.

“This is a major venue for the District when it goes to market,” Palmer told Roll Call in January, when stakeholders were first beginning to consider the implications of the land transfer. “We want the commercial end of the business, the Hollywood production base, because they are very, very lucrative.”