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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lawmakers laying groundwork for new State House

Alabama lawmakers are considering a bill that would give the Legislative Building Authority the power to add to or connect to the current Capitol to create meeting space for themselves, and to sell bonds to do so.
The House Government Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the bill, which would also give other powers and property to the panel, on Wednesday. The authority includes three House and three Senate members who are responsible for the management and upkeep of State House property.
The chairman of the authority, Rep. Richard Laird, D-Roanoke, said they would obviously not move forward during these economic conditions, but would be "ready to pull the trigger in the future."
"We are getting the paving done so we can get down that road in the future," he said.
Laird and other legislators have said a new or renovated State House is needed because of the constant needs for repairs in the current facility and because the current building, which was opened in 1963 for the state highway department, is not situated for legislative business.
Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said the current State House does not have room for constituents who drive to Montgomery to get through the halls and to sit in on the committee meetings. Often, when controversial or popular issues are discussed, constituents and lobbyists spill out into the halls and cannot get into rooms to hear the debate.
Bedford, chairman of the General Fund budget committee in the Senate, said there has not been a final decision on a new State House. Laird has said he favors building close to the current facility for lawmakers and for people who visit.
Laird said the legislation would give the authority the ability to sell bonds to fund a building project.
"This bill would authorize the Legislative Building Authority to enter into contracts, transactions, statements of understanding, and other agreements with the state of Alabama or the Retirement Systems of Alabama, or both," the bill states.
The legislation has bipartisan support with sponsors including Laird, House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard of Auburn and state Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, who is chairman of the House General Fund budget committee.
Hubbard, who is also chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, said the building has outlived its usefulness. He said there is mold and mildew and not space for the public.
"I don't think now is the time to do it, but there will be a time we have to do something," he said. "This economy will turn around. I don't think anybody thinks anybody is going to do anything anytime soon."
Hubbard said the bill would put the authority in a position to act when the economy turns around. He said he might not be in the Legislature when the authority acts.
He said he was in a committee meeting on Wednesday when people could not get in the room.
Lawmakers have discussed building a new State House behind the current Capitol or at the opposite end of Dexter Avenue. Local officials including former Mayor Bobby Bright were pushing for the Dexter Avenue location.
The bill would also allow the state to take control of parts of streets within the Capitol complex, according to the proposal. Those streets include Union Street between Washington and Monroe streets, which runs between the Capitol and the State House. Control of the city street would then be transferred to the state.
"This bill would provide for the vacation of certain portions of streets in the Capitol complex and the transfer of title and control to the state," the bill states.
The legislation would also transfer control of some parking lots in the Capitol complex to the authority including the one located south of the Capitol and between the State House and the Folsom Building.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Location: Montgomery, AL, United States

South Union Street is the blog of Montgomery Advertiser political reporters Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen. Always check here for the latest on the Legislature, elections and other activities and players in Alabama.

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