Lawmakers advance bill that could lead to new Statehouse

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers on Tuesday advanced legislation that could lead to the construction of a new Statehouse, although there is not a price tag yet for the proposal.

The House of Representatives voted 88-9 to approve legislation that would give the Legislative Council, a 20-member panel that consists of legislative leaders, key committee chairpersons and selected members, the authority to contract with the Retirement Systems of Alabama, or another entity, for the construction and maintenance of a new Alabama Statehouse. The bill could get final approval as soon as Thursday.

The approval comes as the Retirement Systems of Alabama is seeking proposals from architectural firms for design, analysis and engineering work for construction that “would replace the existing state house chambers, legislative offices, support services and parking.” Proposals are due May 19.

The Legislative Council last year authorized senior legislative staff to work with Retirement Systems, which has built numerous office and event space buildings, about the possibility of constructing a new Statehouse that would be leased to lawmakers.

The Alabama Legislature once met in the Alabama Capitol. Lawmakers in 1985 moved into the current 1963 building that previously housed the Alabama Highway Department Building as a temporary meeting place when the Capitol was undergoing renovations. Lawmakers never moved back.

“It was always intended to be a temporary home for the Legislature,” said Republican Sen. Sam Givhan, the sponsor of the legislation.

Givhan said the problems in the current building are well documented, including mold, lack of accessibility for the public and a lack of facilities for the disabled.

“It was not designed for the public to interface with their elected officials,” Givhan said. And so this is something we think needs to be done. Now, whether it’s going to happen or not, that’s a totally different issue. There’s still debate about what’s it going to look like, where’s it going to be. And of course, the overarching issue is probably, what’s it going to cost and can we afford it?”

Givhan said that $200 million was the last price estimate he is aware of but is unsure if that is still accurate.

Alabama lawmakers in 2020 briefly discussed the possibility of using $200 million of federal pandemic relief funds to build a new statehouse, but the idea drew an immediate backlash.

The possible construction comes as lawmakers have expressed concern about the cost of other proposed big-ticket expenditures, including tax rebates or the full removal of the state sales tax on food. Givhan said those requests involve funding hits to the state education budget, while the statehouse project would involve a separate state pot of funds.