MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama House of Representatives is adjusting procedures for the 2021 session because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including purchasing remote voting tablets that will allow legislators to spread out in the congested Alabama Statehouse.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said Tuesday that they are trying to reduce crowding and make conditions safer for lawmakers and staff members. Lawmakers return to Montgomery on Feb. 2 for the 2021 legislative session, but could return sooner if a special session is called.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point where we can say it's 100% safe, but we want to minimize all of the risks that we can,” McCutcheon said.
When the House is in session, the 105 representatives will be spread out in three locations — the House chamber floor, the gallery that overlooks the floor and an overflow room.
The House has purchased tablets that work with the existing voting system that will allow members to vote from the gallery and overflow room similarly to how they normally vote from their desks in the House chamber.
House Clerk Jeff Woodard said the system cost about $120,000 and the House will seek reimbursement from the state’s share of federal coronavirus funds.
McCutcheon said the tablets will also work if lawmakers move out of the Statehouse to an alternative site. Woodard said they looked at seven alternative sites, including the ballroom of a downtown hotel or the arena at Alabama State University. The plan for now is to meet at the Statehouse.
It is unclear how much access the public will have during the legislative session.
McCutcheon said they are considering using Zoom meetings, appointments or other means for the public to communicate with lawmakers and watch meetings. Public hearings, he said, are a particular challenge and it is uncertain how those will work.
“The Legislature does not want function — for lack of a better term — in the dark of night. ... We need public input,” McCutcheon said.
Alabama lawmakers last year cut the 2020 legislative session short as the COVID-19 pandemic erupted.