By CAROLINE BECK Alabama Daily News
Alabama State House leaders on Friday announced a series of technology upgrades meant to help maintain the safety of lawmakers, staff members and the public during the upcoming legislative session amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The State House, originally completed in 1963, has enhanced its Wi-fi network and upgrades to the legislature’s external website to provide enhanced live video streaming of the House and Senate chambers as well as committee hearing proceedings.
“The State House’s age and the uneven nature of expansions and renovations over the years made it difficult for its infrastructure to maintain 21st Century technological advances,” said Pat Harris, Secretary of the Alabama Senate in a press release. “The building’s outdated wiring and architecture present challenges as the legislature works to adhere to social distancing policies during the coronavirus pandemic.
“To resolve these technological deficiencies, legislative staff has made numerous upgrades to open up the continuity of legislative business and resolve some of the State House’s physical restrictions.”
Lawmakers and staff have now been converted to the Microsoft 365 suite of programs to streamline the legislative process by permitting off-site access to documents and e-mails, the press release said.
The Alabama House has already announced their new virtual voting system that will help ease the process of members voting who will now be spaced out among the House chamber, the House gallery and two overflow rooms.
More significant upgrades to the Legislature’s internal computer system and external website are in progress and planned to be rolled out by the opening of the 2022 regular session.
An internal system known as the Legislative Information Network Exchange (LINX) will take the place of the current ALIS system. It will be cloud-based, with a focus on streamlining the legislative process for the state of Alabama, the press release said.
LINX will interface with an updated ALISON, the information system that the public can access through the legislative website. It will provide real-time access to legislative session information, the status of bills and up-to-date calendars for hearings and committee meetings.
New features on the website will include interactive tables to easily search for bills by topic, sponsor or status and searchable information on legislators and staff members.
New safety procedures will also be in place for the session including added temperature checks as people enter the State House and on the seventh floor where the Senate chambers and senator’s offices are.
Everyone will be required to wear a face mask when in public spaces, as well as maintain six-feet of social distancing. Visits to senator’s offices will be by appointment only and public gathering areas will be established on the third floor.
State House staff and members must also complete a daily health check assessment survey before entering the building each day.
“We are doing all we possibly can under these difficult circumstances to protect the public, our staff, and our members, while opening the government for this session with an open, transparent process,” Harris said.
The legislative session is scheduled to begin at noon on Feb. 2.