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Did Mother Nature sanction a new Alabama State House?

By By Bob Martin, The Alabama Scene
Although a tragic death and severe property damage was caused by the torrential rain in Montgomery last Thursday the downpour may have breathed new life into the proposal for a new Alabama State House.
In the mid 1980s when the legislature decided to remodel the Highway Department Building behind the capitol and convert the top four floors for the legislature, Gov. Fob James, calling it a Taj Mahal, sneaked into the building in the dark of night with a television news crew as the remodeling was nearing completion, hoping to embarrass the legislative branch of the government for its excessive largess.
As with most of the issues he championed, “Fumbling Fob,” who served one term as a Democrat and one as a Republican, was also wrong on this one. The legislative chambers in the capitol building were totally inadequate to accommodate, not only the legislature, but the citizens who wished to see their representatives in action. Had Fob opposed the remodeling of the old Highway Department Building for the right reason he wouldn’t have fumbled again, but the right reason didn’t fit into his hype against the legislature. The right reason would have been that the result of the remodeling wasn’t a lot better at providing public access than the two chambers in the capitol, except that legislators did get small offices to visit with constituents and there was more room for the bureaucrats.
If that place was ever a Taj Mahal, then I will be the King of Siam in the afterlife. Last Thursday morning as the rains drenched Montgomery and the surrounding region, my analysis about the building was proven even more correct, considering its history of ills over the past two decades. The basement flooded, several walls crumbled, the power failed, there was no air conditioning, the computers crashed, cars in the parking lot were flooded, the mold spread further and the legislature had to evacuate back to the chambers in the capitol. The building is a disaster and is in dire need of demolition. Perhaps the rain was an omen.
A bill has been creeping through the law-making process this session which would eventually correct the problem of access to the legislature. It is House Bill 802 by Rep. Richard Laird, D-Roanoke, and it would expand the power of the Legislative Building Authority to acquire rights of way and add a legislative wing to the back of the capitol, across Union Street and into the vacant lot between the current State House and the Folsom Office Building. No additional property need be acquired.
That legislation has cleared the committee process in the Senate and will be in a position to pass when the legislature reconvenes Thursday for the final two days of the session. I contacted Rep. Laird over the past weekend. He believes the bill will get up for a vote and states emphatically that there is no plan to move immediately on constructing a legislative wing to the capitol, saying that this bill is intended to provide some ability to make plans for the future.
There has been a lot of chatter in Montgomery about building a new State House downtown at the west end of Dexter Avenue, but perhaps the more sensible approach is that which is authorized by Rep. Laird’s legislation and supported by other legislative leaders, including the House Minority Leader, Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.
One Capitol Hill wag suggested last week that since contract lobbyists make up a good share of the citizen contact with lawmakers, perhaps time meters should be placed in the legislative building and they would have to pony up to help pay for any new facility.
That idea has yet to receive any traction.
Mandatory experience for judges
In Alabama the only legal experience judges are currently required to have is to hold a license to practice law in the state. The legislature has approved a bill that requires state judges to have practiced law in Alabama for various time frames and sent the measure to Gov. Bob Riley, who is expected to sign it.
Appeals court judges and justices on the State Supreme Court will now have to practice law for at least 10 years.
Circuit judges would be required to have practiced for five years and district judges three years. The requirements will take effect for judicial candidates in next year’s elections. Current judges are exempt.
The Alabama State Bar pushed the bill along with Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood and Democratic Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville. Bedford says he believes the bill will help improve the quality of judges in Alabama. I concur.
Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: