- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2000

The House yesterday passed a bill requiring Hollywood studios to pay fees for the privilege of using national parks and other public lands as backdrops for movies, TV shows or commercials.

The legislation sets a uniform policy for collecting fees for the commercial use of public lands, including still photography. The bill was endorsed by the Interior Department, and goes to President Clinton for his signature later this week.

Sponsored by Rep. Joel Hefley, Colorado Republican, the measure passed by unanimous consent and was endorsed by the Motion Picture Association of America.

"It is indeed rare when a measure is endorsed by those who will be paying its fees," Mr. Hefley said.

Jack Valenti, president of the association, said he was "proud of the film industry for taking a responsible position."

"This is common-sense legislation that benefits our national parks and all those who visit them," Mr. Valenti said in a written statement.

Television news, newsreels, and some commercial photography are exempt from the legislation.

The Senate passed the bill last fall after adding language to ban any commercial use of land that would harm the environment, diminish public safety or impede public use.

Previously, the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service were forbidden by a 1948 regulation to collect fees for commercial filming or photography.

The bill directs both the interior and agriculture secretaries to establish reasonable fees for public lands under their jurisdiction. From the fees collected, 70 percent will remain in the park affected, and 30 percent distributed systemwide.

The money will be used to cover costs associated with giving film, video and photography professionals access to the land.

Mr. Hefley said the legislation strikes a proper balance between land use and land preservation.

"I want people to film in our national parks," Mr. Hefley said. "After all, many people were probably first exposed to our public lands through the classic westerns of John Ford, which were filmed on public lands near Moab, Utah.

"At the same time, I don't want our public lands turned into sound stages. If permitting filming allows us to recoup its costs and respond to some of the other needs of our land-management agencies, then that is a desired result," Mr. Hefley said.

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