Senate Kills Bill with Fees, Permits for Photogs in Parks

July 17, 2014

A sloppily written provision that could have opened the door wider for federal land managers to charge fees or require permits for news photography died in the Senate July 10, 2014, along with the "Bipartisan Sportsmen's Bill" to which it was attached. The Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) and other media groups had objected to the language.

Despite bipartisan sponsorship and an 82-12 win in an early procedural test vote, the bill was sunk by its own good prospects and election-year politics. Because it had a chance of getting through the Senate, it attracted authors of many potential amendments aimed at thwarting Obama administration environmental policies. After Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) used parliamentary tactics to block all amendments, the bill died in another test vote, 41-56, on cloture.

It had been engineered by the Professional Outdoor Media Associate (POMA), a group that had split with other outdoor media groups on the issue of fees and permits. In essence, the provision (Section 108) would have allowed some commercial film photographers to buy an annual permit for crews of five persons or less for $200, with the permit to be good at any public land unit.

SEJ and other news media groups wrote the Senate July 8 urging that the language be dropped.

"Not only does the current Section 108 threaten to cut off news media access to public lands," the groups wrote, "but is so sloppily drafted that it could have other unpredictable and harmful results."

While the bill authorized fees and permits for "commercial filming" on public lands, it did not define "commercial filming." Nor did it explicitly exempt newsgathering, whether commercial or otherwise.

Groups signing the letter in addition to SEJ included the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Press Photographers Association, the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the American Society of Media Photographers.

SEJ and many of the groups had fought a similar battle in 2007 against a different effort to put photo-fee limits into law. That was an effort to clarify current National Park Service rules, which remain in effect. In that case, SEJ opposed the legislative action that had been put forth, and Congress never acted on it.