National Park Service Pulls Plan to Revamp DC Protest Rules

A visitor looks out toward the U.S. Capitol from the Washington Monument’s observation level on Sept. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Marking a victory for civil rights groups and First Amendment advocates, the National Park Service on Monday nixed a plan that could have restricted access for protesters and created new permit fees for demonstrations near the White House, the National Mall and other parks in the nation’s capital.

The proposed changes to the First Amendment and special use permit regulations were first introduced in August 2018. The agency said at the time it was considering whether fees collected from would-be protesters could offset the expense of maintaining public grounds that are frequently trashed or damaged during large-scale demonstrations.

The proposal received over 140,000 comments, according to a statement released Monday on the National Park Service website.

“The National Mall and President’s Park are regarded as premier civic and symbolic spaces in our nation, and the volume and complexity of permit requests has increased dramatically over the years,” the agency said in a statement.  “The intent of the proposed revisions was to maintain the public’s opportunity to hold special events and right to demonstrate while outlining clear parameters that protect the iconic landmarks, views and grounds for use and enjoyment of citizens and visitors from around the globe.”

“After reviewing public comments on the proposed revisions, the NPS has determined that the regulations… will remain unchanged, and demonstrations and special events will continue to be managed according to the existing regulations,” the statement continued.

The proposal would have also cut off access to roughly 80% of the sidewalk currently available to protesters around the White House.

The American Civil Liberties Union campaigned against the proposal for months, encouraging the public to weigh in as the parks service conducted a lengthy review period.

ACLU senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane called Monday’s reversal a victory.

“The National Mall is the place where we, as a nation, go to speak directly to our government. President Trump might not like having protesters on his doorstep, but the First Amendment guarantees us the right to be there,” she said. “The National Park Service’s retreat should serve as a reminder that if the administration tries to come after our right to protest, it will have to get through thousands of ACLU members and supporters first.”

The official decision to withdraw the proposal will be published Tuesday in the Federal Register. According to a statement by Parks Service spokesman Mike Litterst, there are currently no plans to revisit a fee schedule for protests.

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