2 months ago

‘We don’t need a Taj Mahal’: Architect State Rep. Lipscomb discusses new statehouse possibilities as legislature prepares to meet during pandemic

For 30 days within a period of 105 calendar days, the Alabama State House at 11 South Union Street in Montgomery is the busiest building on Goat Hill as lawmakers, staff, lobbyists, media, tour groups and activists all converge for the annual legislative session.

The actual building, constructed in 1963 to serve as offices for the Alabama Highway Department, leaves much to be desired as it is fraught with mold and other shortcomings that pose a risk to the public. What was meant to be a temporary move in the 1980s as work was being done in the actual State Capitol across the street has remained the permanent meeting place for the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama Senate.

However, there seems to be no political will to advance any proposal for a new structure, which seems to be long overdue.


During an interview last month, Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills), who has had an off-and-on career in the Alabama legislature spanning the past six decades, said not to expect movement on a new facility “any time soon.”

“It’s a subject of discussion, and it’s probably needed, but it would be a very expensive ordeal,” Waggoner explained.

The possibility was broached last year when Gov. Kay Ivey used a proposal as a political weapon in a fight for control over CARES Act coronavirus relief funding, which further solidified the subject’s toxicity in the eyes of the public.

“I have already seen one ‘wish list’ that includes a new $200 million statehouse for the Legislature,” the Governor said at the time. “To me, that is totally unacceptable and not how President Trump and Congress intended for this money to be spent.”

However, as lawmakers are now less than a month away from reconvening for the 2021 regular session, questions about safety go beyond the existing hazards as the nation is in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Will the existing structure be adequate for the legislature to tend to the unfinished business of the 202o regular session that was cut short due to the pandemic? According to some, it has led to an “imbalance” within state government?

Time will tell for the answer to that question. However, as for a new structure, such an effort is complicated according to State Rep. Craig Lipscomb (R-Gadsden), a practicing architect and graduate of Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction.

During an interview with Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5, Lipscomb laid out how the current situation came to be.

“[T]hat building, which is currently the State House, is one of six concrete buildings in Montgomery,” he explained. “They were all kind of built around the same time. I think actually think that building was the Highway Department built somewhere around 1963. It’s knocking on 60 years old now. In the early 80s, around 1984, I guess they relocated the Highway Department elsewhere. And they temporarily put all the legislators in that building because the intention was to physically connect a brand new structure to house the House and the Senate and LSA, and all of those other functions that are associated with it because previously, all of the representation was located in the Capitol. And if you’ve ever been in the Capitol, you can imagine how that was.”

“I can’t even begin to imagine how that worked,” Lipscomb continued. “There’s just not enough room for an extra couple of hundred people to reside in there. So, they needed a new building. And constitutionally, it had to be physically attached to the Capitol. And so, at the time, the intention was to put them in that old Highway Department building. And meanwhile, they could get some architectural work done. They would design a new State House to reasonably match the aesthetics of the Capitol. They would interconnect those two — probably close down the street between those two buildings, and take down or demolish [the existing statehouse]. Even back then, it was in pretty poor shape, and I think it is in worse shape now.”

The Etowah County lawmaker insisted there was a practical approach to building a new facility and explained why the existing Alabama State House conditions are as such, which could eventually be a liability for the state.

“We don’t need a Taj Mahal,” he said. “We just need a safe, economic structure to reside in,” he said. “You have got to understand — that building being concrete — and I’m going to speak a little architecture here — concrete is porous, and it inherently wicks in moisture. And so what’s happening is that envelope the building has, that moisture is getting into it, and it is not getting back out. That’s exacerbated by the fact that you have got a heating and cooling system in there that’s rather dated, inefficient. There’s not enough fresh air in the building, etc., and so that mold continues to grow within the wall cavity of the building. Henceforth, everybody that resides in there on a regular basis — talking about all the staffers, everybody who is in there aside from the legislative body who stay there year-long — they have constant sinus issues. There’s a lot of them that have had to have sinus surgery, and I know of one or two people that have had to have numerous sinus surgeries. It is purely based upon the environmental conditions of that building. Had it been anything but a governmental building, I have no doubt they would have been sued by now because — where in the world do you encounter that? That’s an anomaly these days.”

Lipscomb insists that an analysis of legislative needs for a new structure would have to be completed before assigning a price tag. However, he argued that it would ultimately save the state money on maintenance, renovations, and utility costs in the long run.

“From an architectural perspective, what you have to do is you have to start with a program,” he explained. “A program is kind of like a checklist of the kind of spaces you need in a building. It kind of tells that you need rooms for x, y and z, and those rooms need to be a particular size or have particular features that suit the needs of the individual who is going to be occupying that space. Once you have created that program, now you have got to set a guideline to go by in the early stages of design. You can begin to estimate how much square footage. You can begin to estimate the amount of circulatory space, both horizontal and vertical quantity of the rooms, the size of the rooms, and all of that kind of stuff — and that would be the first step — basically taking an analysis of what you would need out of a structure to facilitate the legislative needs of the state of Alabama.”

“Once you put that down on paper, you can get some ballpark ideas of where you’re heading as far as the cost of construction is concerned because you can apply some rule of thumb square foot costs here,” Lipscomb added. “I don’t know what those would be. We’re certainly not going to be spending RSA kind of money here. You’ve seen those buildings. They’re very fine buildings with really nice finishes. I don’t think that’s what we’re looking for. It’s definitely not going to be a cheap structure — but I think I can tell you this without too much hesitation: When you’re dealing with an existing building that’s nearly 60 years old, it’s highly inefficient.  I don’t know how many millions of dollars we must put into the cost of maintenance and utilities just to the fact it’s poorly insulated, just to the fact they’re having constant renovations and whatnot. And when you’re in that situation, when you’re tossing money out the window, why would you not have a fresh, new structure that would do everything that you would want it to do?”

How does Alabama’s State House chamber measure up to other states’ chambers?  See below:

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

4 hours ago

Alabama basketball completes the sweep against Auburn

Fresh off of winning the SEC regular season championship for the first time in 19 years, the Alabama Crimson Tide on Tuesday completed a sweep of Auburn for the first time in six years after defeating the Tigers at home 70-58.

Jayden Shackelford led the way for Alabama in Tuscaloosa, as the talented sophomore guard went 5-9 from behind the arc to finish with 23 total points in the win over Auburn.

Sophomore Jahvon Quinerly scored 11 points off of the bench and provided sparks for Alabama in crucial moments of the game.

While Alabama led by as much as 16 points in the first half, Auburn was able to cut the lead to five in the second. However, Alabama’s defense began to stiffen up, and seniors Herbert Jones and John Petty stalled the Tiger’s offense out before they could get too hot.

201

For the Tide, the three-ball has become a major part of their offense. Second-year head coach Nate Oats always tells his players to get at least one touch in the paint first before shooting. This green-light mentality is becoming more and more popular throughout college hoops.

Bama has done really well with this philosophy by becoming one of the most dominant teams from downtown in the conference. Tuesday’s game showed that even when the three doesn’t come through for the Tide, they have other ways of scoring.

Alabama drove the basketball extremely well in the second half against Auburn and proved to be the more physical team in their win on Tuesday night. When tournament time begins, they may have to lean on this more physical style of play in certain games.

The Tide have one more regular season game against Georgia in Athens on Saturday. Bama will look to finish the regular season on a win before the SEC Tournament in Nashville gets underway.

The Tide are currently projected to be a two seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football and college basketball writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: hayden@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.

4 hours ago

Alabama House recap: Bills to increase executive branch oversight, update sex ed language pass chamber

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama House of Representatives met Tuesday and passed six pieces of legislation, including bills that would increase oversight of executive branch agencies and update language in the state’s policy on sex education.

After convening shortly after 1:00 p.m. the chamber spent much of the next five hours in extended debate on two bills, with members of the Democratic Party engaging in protracted discussions of legislation they began their remarks saying they would ultimately vote for.

Seeing the most debate were HB 392 from Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) and HB 103 from Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville).

Jones’ bill creates a joint legislative committee to oversee large financial agreements made by the executive branch, and Kiel’s would prevent the state government from picking which businesses close during states of emergency.

456

More information on Kiel’s bill is available here.

The legislation from Jones, chair of the powerful Rules Committee, would create the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Obligation Transparency. The committee would have the authority to approve or disapprove of contracts, leases and agreements by the executive branch and the agencies therein.

Under the proposed law the committee would meet to review any financial agreement greater than $10 million or 5% of the agency’s annual appropriation from the State General Fund.

Making up the committee would be the chair, vice-chair and ranking minority members of the committees in each legislative chamber that oversee taxation.

The proposed oversight committee would be able to meet when the legislature is in or out of session. It would have to issue approval or disapproval within 45 days of a state agency submitting a proposed contract.

If the proposed committee disapproved of a contract it would be delayed from going into effect until the end of the current or next occurring general session of the legislature.

Jones noted in remarks on the floor that this delay would give lawmakers time to address via legislation the proposal disapproved of by the committee, and added that new legislation would be required to put a halt to any state contract of which the proposed committee disapproved.

HB 392 ultimately received unanimous support in the House, with a final vote of 98-0.

Also passing the House on Tuesday was HB 385 sponsored by Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville). The bill updates language in the legal code that governs how Alabama educators must teach sex ed.

It also deletes from the Code of Alabama language that requires those teaching sex ed to emphasize that “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.”

Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) and Rep. Charlotte Meadows (R-Montgomery), two staunch conservatives with backgrounds in education policy, spoke in favor of the legislation on the House floor and voted for its passage. The bill passed the House on a vote of 69-30.

Three other pieces of lower profile legislation passed the chamber on Tuesday:

HB 255 from Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Cullman) that would add a tenth member to the advisory board of directors of the Department of Senior Services, and let ex officio members name a designee to serve in their place.

HB 330 from Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton) that would change the outdated language in the state legal code concerning video depositions in criminal prosecutions.

HB 136 from Rep. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger’s Island) that would designate the aquarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab as the Official Aquarium of Alabama.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

8 hours ago

Alabama House passes bill that would block the government from picking and choosing which establishments close during states of emergency

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would prevent the state government from designating which types of businesses were allowed to stay open in situations such as the one experienced during the advent of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Sponsored by Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville), HB103 would not infringe on the governor or state health officer’s ability to implement public health guidance. It would only say that any business or house of worship that followed public health guidelines would be allowed to open.

“I think if it is safe enough to go to the liquor store and wear a mask and socially distance, then it is safe enough to go to church and wear a mask and socially distance,” argued Kiehl on the House floor.

285

The vote on the floor was 75 in favor and 22 opposed with three members abstaining.

The bill applies to declared states of emergency that involve a “pandemic, epidemic, bioterrorism event, or the appearance of a novel or previously controlled or eradicated infectious disease or biological toxin,” per the text of the legislation.

In explaining what inspired him to author the legislation, Kieh said of last spring, “I saw businesses in my town that were suffering,” adding that some small business owners he knew were “scared to death they were going to lose their livelihoods.”

Governor Ivey’s “Stay At Home” order, in place for most of April 2020, allowed major retailers like Walmart to remain open while smaller retail stores that did not sell groceries were forced to close.

Kiehl feels that this arrangement was unfair, and that small shops and establishments deserved the chance to stay open if able to implement the health guidelines. Ivey has expressed regret in recent months about creating the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” businesses.

“[W]hat we were really doing is were we driving all the customers that would have been in all these other stores — in the small mom-and-pops, the Hibbetts of the world — we were driving all those to one central location to buy clothing. That cannot be good for the spread of the pandemic — to bring everybody together in one location or a few locations,” Kiel told FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show.”

The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) is strongly supporting the passage of the legislation.

Kiel’s bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

9 hours ago

Alabama Senate passes Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act

MONTGOMERY — On a party line vote, the Alabama Senate on Tuesday passed SB 10, the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), the bill would ban the performance of medical procedures and the prescription of puberty-blocking medications and sex-change hormones used as transgender therapies for minors, with certain exceptions.

The vote was 23-4, with the only four Democrats present all dissenting: Sens. Billy Beasley (D-Clayton), Vivian Figures (D-Mobile), Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham).

Shelnutt, since first introducing a version of the legislation last year, has said his goal in bringing the bill was to simply protect children from making harmful longterm decisions that they may later regret once more mature.

215

“The primary concern here is the health and well-being of Alabama’s children,” stated Shelnutt. “We must protect vulnerable minors who do not have the mental capacity to make life-altering decisions of this caliber. The efficacy and effects of these particular surgeries and methods of treatment are not well-sustained by medical evidence, and actions of this severity cannot be undone.”

“I believe it is our responsibility as lawmakers to do all we can to keep our children out of harm’s way,” he added. “Protecting minors from these powerful drugs and consequential procedures will help ensure they do not feel responsible to make a decision they may wish to later undo, ultimately causing more harm.”

The House Judiciary Committee last week approved as amended the lower chamber’s companion version of the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy). HB 1 now awaits consideration on the House floor.

In response to the passage of SB 10, Scott McCoy — SPLC interim deputy director for LGBTQ Rights & Special Litigation — released a statement.

“The Alabama State Senate is dangerously close to passing yet another piece of discriminatory legislation that likely will lead to long and expensive litigation at high cost to Alabama taxpayers,” McCoy decried.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

Alabama GOP Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard: 2020 election ‘stolen from President Trump’

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard on Tuesday called upon the Alabama House Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections Committee to vote down a bill that would legalize no-excuse absentee voting in the state, among other alterations of Alabama’s elections laws.

The committee is set to meet on Wednesday regarding HB 396, which is sponsored by State Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville). The bill was originally backed by Secretary of State John Merrill, although he has now withdrawn his support for the measure.

Blanchard served in the administration of President Donald J. Trump as his ambassador to Slovenia, the home country of then-First Lady Melania Trump.

The Montgomery resident is Alabama’s only declared U.S. Senate candidate ahead of the 2022 race to replace retiring U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). Blanchard in a written statement said HB 396 significantly weakens Alabama’s absentee balloting rules.

159

“Absentee balloting invites corruption, cheating, and fraud, so it should be allowed only in rare and unavoidable cases,” she said. “The bill that has been introduced in the Legislature leaves the door wide open for ballot harvesting and other abuses that allowed the recent presidential election to be stolen from President Trump.”

“The bill also begins a dangerous process of watering down Alabama’s election laws, which could lead to the repeal of our photo voter ID requirements and other safeguards that Republicans have put in place,” Blanchard continued.

She concluded, “Alabama should focus on strengthening, not weakening, our honest election reforms, and we certainly shouldn’t implement no-excuse absentee voting, which is often used by liberal Democrats who have refined election fraud and ballot stuffing into an art form.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) and Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) have already voiced opposition to HB 396.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn