The first week of the 2015 session of the Louisiana Legislature began and ended with parking lot accidents involving the new State Capitol security system.
But the incidents aren’t prompting supporters of the security project to pursue any changes.
Motorists just need to be more careful, they say. The system is working as designed.
“I hope everybody understands the importance of the new security system,” said state Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington, R-Keithville. “While certainly there has been a transition, it keeps the citizens and school children here on a daily basis safe in this building.
“There are certainly challenges. We need to work our way through them,” said Smith Buffington, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “You really have to be cautious.”
The accidents involved electronically controlled bollards — vertical metal barriers that stop the passage of vehicles into off-limits areas. They were installed as part of a secruity upgrade that was completed the morning the session began on Monday last week.
Rumors ran rampant about a growing number of bollard incidents — including another involving a state representative. But State Police recorded only two.
Last Monday, state Rep. Paul Hollis had a not so pleasant experience. The Covington legislator broke his hand and suffered a mild concussion as two bollards shot up causing major damage to the front of his Audi A8.
On Friday, a House employee had the same problem. Bollards raised her Nissan Ultima off the parking lot surface as she was exiting at day’s end.
“At this point my only feeling is I’m looking forward to healing up and glad it wasn’t any worse than it was for me or the other person,” Hollis said Monday.
Hollis said his hand will be healed in about a month and his car can be repaired.
He has no opinion about the role of the bollards in the Capitol security project. “There are security experts who go into making determinations on what’s necessary to protect our State Capitol and others,” Hollis said. “There are pros and cons and unfortunately I wound up on the wrong end.”
At secured parking entry and exists, the bollards are used to prevent unauthorized vehicles. A traffic light is posted at each entry and exit point, which turns red or green, telling motorists when to go or stop. Motorist swipe a card that triggers the bollards to go down. After their vehicle passes, the red light goes on and the bollards go back up until the next motorist in line swipes their card and is authorized to go through.
The parking lots are used by legislators, statewide elected officials and people who have offices in the State Capitol.
Buffington said people have to realize they must come to a full and complete stop and wait for the light to turn green to proceed.
State Police Lt. J.B. Slaton said the bollards were operating properly in both instances.
“Both (motorists) had access cards and failed to scan their access cards and were piggybacking,” trying to exit with the car in front, Slaton said. And you can’t do that with the security system.
State Office of Facility Planning and Control director Mark Moses said the administration is monitoring the security system and will consider changes if legislative leaders deem them necessary.
If the bollards had been malfunctioning, and coming up when they were not supposed to, that problem would need addressing, said state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, vice chairman of the Homeland Security panel. But last week’s incidents showed that the bollards were working correctly.
“It’s designed where you don’t tailgate, to stop anybody from following you in or out,” White said.
State Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said the accidents also demonstrate the strength of the bollards in preventing unauthorized entry. “They probably would keep somebody out,” he said.
“Sometimes legislators and people get in a hurry, Walsworth said. “I hope we don’t back off those security measures.”
Walsworth noted that the system became operational on the session’s first day and even though information was distributed about how it worked, there could have been lapses in communication.
“Rep. Hollis called so much attention to them, it probably told a lot of people to slow it down,” Walsworth said. “Nobody is going to like their car getting dinged up.”
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.