Lawmakers approve bill that would enable construction of new Alabama Statehouse

A bill now awaiting the governor’s signature could lead to the construction of a new Alabama Statehouse building.
A bill now awaiting the governor's signature could lead to the construction of a new Alabama...
A bill now awaiting the governor's signature could lead to the construction of a new Alabama Statehouse building.(Source: WSFA 12 News)
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 5:37 PM CDT|Updated: May. 11, 2023 at 7:26 PM CDT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Lawmakers on Thursday gave final approval to legislation that could lead to the construction of a new Alabama Statehouse.

The bill gives the Legislative Council, a 20-member panel that consists of legislative leaders and selected members, the authority to contract with the Retirement Systems of Alabama, or another entity, for the construction of a new Alabama Statehouse that would be leased back to the Legislature. State senators voted 34-0 to accept changes to the legislation made by the House of Representatives. The bill now goes to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature.

House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter said the current Statehouse, originally built in the 1960s to house the state highway department, has ongoing maintenance problems with accommodating spectators in crowded committee rooms.

“I think the people of Alabama need to be represented better than this building. I really do. I've been to statehouses in different parts of the country, and they are a representation of the people. They want to welcome people into them,” Ledbetter said. "We can't accommodate the public."

Ledbetter said he believed a decision would be made fairly quickly but declined to give a more precise estimate. He said council members will weigh the yearly cost of maintenance against the cost of leasing a new building. The Retirement Systems of Alabama, which has built office buildings in downtown Montgomery and other cities, is soliciting proposals from architecture firms for site investigation and design of a new Statehouse.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed estimated that it would be the end of the year or early 2024, “before we're in a place to where we have enough information."

“We need to recognize the building that we’re in is over 60 years old," Reed said. “We’ve got an enormous amount of money that’s being spent to maintain this building. Even with a lot of money being spent to maintain it, it is still not in very good condition for the people of Alabama that are coming here by the hundreds every week.”

From the mid-1800s to 1985, Alabama lawmakers met at the Alabama Capitol, which also houses the governor’s office. Lawmakers in 1985 moved into the current building as a temporary meeting place when the Capitol was undergoing renovations. Lawmakers never moved back, and a number of renovations have been made through the years. An underground tunnel connects the Capitol and the current Statehouse.

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 immediate backlash. This year’s legislation moved swiftly in the Alabama Legislature and was approved within three weeks with little dissent. It was approved 31-0 in the Alabama Senate and 88-9 in the House of Representatives.