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SD Legislature looks at upgrades for House, Senate chambers

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By Bob Mercer

Capitol Correspondent

PIERRE — Work will begin in April at the state Capitol’s two legislative chambers to remove, restore and strengthen the displays of antique stained-glass windows that adorn the ceilings.

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Some lawmakers think that might be the perfect time to open the floors and install new wiring as the first step toward vastly improving the sound systems in the House and the Senate, as well as the voting system and information display boards used in the House.

As of last weekend, no one had spoken about those possible plans yet with the Bureau of Administration, the state agency that oversees construction and maintenance work in the Capitol and is responsible for the stainedglass project.

Removing the glass panels will require extensive use of scaffolds. The bureau’s plan has been to save money by keeping the scaffolds set up while the glass is out. That’s possible because the annual legislative session concludes at the end of March. The Legislature’s Executive Board recently discussed the wiring proposal along with a complete upgrade of the technology in both chambers.

International Roll-Call, a Virginia company that works with Brookings-based Daktronics, provided a rough estimate of costs.

Rewiring the Senate desks would run about $25,000, and the House would cost about $45,000 (there are 35 senators and 70 representatives).

Replacing sound systems, including new microphones at each desk, would cost about $120,000 for the Senate and about $180,000 for the House.

Going with the full menu of improvements suggested by International Roll-Call, including push-button voting in the Senate rather than the traditional voice voting, would be about $534,700 in the Senate and about $644,700 in the House.

“Nothing has been decided, of course, and this is all brain-storming,” said Lou Adamson, a member of the Legislative Research Council staff.

The Senate tradition won’t be lost without a fight, based on comments from some of its members.

“I’m of the philosophy: In the Senate, we do nothing,” Sen. Ryan Maher, R-Isabel, said. He is the chairman of the Executive Board.

Sen. Deb Peters was a shade more progressive, saying she would “discourage” switching to button voting in the Senate but can see the value of installing new wiring. “So we’re not in the 18th century,” said Peters, R-Hartford.

Helping nudge forward the idea of making the improvements was Sen. Larry Lucas, D-Mission/Lake Andes. He said the IR-C system has features that would simplify and improve the processes for amending legislation during a debate.

Lucas said the system also can use display boards to show the legislation and the proposed amendments.

“This would help engage people in the gallery, too,” he said.

The Legislature doesn’t have funding for a new system in its current fiscal 2014 budget that runs through June 30, 2014. Lucas said there could be a two-step process, with the new wiring installed while the desks are out, followed by the bigger changes as additional money becomes available.

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