Senate Republican Minority Leader David Hann wants Democrats to delay a final vote to approve the construction of a new legislative office building until after a court case contesting the project gets a hearing.
The Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to take a final vote Wednesday authorizing an all-new office building on the north side of the Capitol to house its members. The project will cost a total of $90 million and include new parking spaces near the Capitol complex.
But Hann wants the Senate to push pause, because a lawsuit against the chamber from former state Rep. Jim Knoblach is set to get its first hearing in court next week.
Knoblach is suing the Senate for including the new office building in the tax bill in the final hours of the 2013 session. He says putting a construction project in the tax proposal violates the single-subject rule for bills.
“Instead of rushing a vote to influence the court, we should wait and see if the lawsuit against the project has merit,” Hann said. “The process used to fund this new building has been flawed from the start, and tomorrow’s action will make it worse.”
Hann also used the opportunity to renew criticisms of the project, which he called a “palatial crystal palace across the street.”
New renderings of the project show a modern-looking structure with a wall of glass windows facing the Capitol building. Early plans included a reflecting pool and a fitness center, but those items have been nixed from the final design.
Senators say the new structure will permanently house their members during and after a disruptive renovation of the state Capitol. The project also will include large hearing rooms for the public and parking spaces that will accommodate people with disabilities.
For their part, Senate Democrats say lawmakers were in talks with the Department of Administration regarding new office space since the start of 2013 and the new office building was added as an amendment to the tax bill in late April, weeks before session ended.
But GOP Sen. Scott Newman said the deal was hatched in the final hours of session and “literally came out of nowhere.”
“My biggest criticism of this is the process, or lack of process,” said Newman, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee and said he didn’t review a stand-alone bill on the project. “It came out of a smoke-filled, back-room deal, and I could not be more critical of those who brought this forward.
The House Rules Committee also will get a vote on the project, but a hearing has yet to be scheduled.