Senate Minority Leader Vivian Figures speaks to BCA Governmental Affairs Committee

State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures of Mobile introduced herself Tuesday (Feb. 19) to the Business Council of Alabama’s Governmental Affairs Committee as the new Senate Minority Leader for the remainder of the 2010-14 legislative term.

“I was elated and looking forward to coming here,” she said.

Figures explained her vision of leadership for Alabama, her signature anti-smoking legislation, education, bipartisan politics, and the need for more women in politics. “We want to just get the job done,” Figures said, but cautioned “don’t take my kindness and sweetness for weakness.”

The Democrat who has been in the Senate since 1997 succeeds Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, as Minority Leader. She is a former Mobile city council member.

Although Republicans control both houses of the legislature, Figures said political compromise is required on important state issues.

“There is a way for us to come together, give a little, take a little,” she said. “In order for Alabama to move forward, we have to come together and put aside our partisanship.”

Figures entered statewide politics after the sudden death of her husband, Senate President Pro Tem Michael Figures, D-Mobile, in 1996. For 14 years, she was a member of the Senate’s dominant Democratic Party until the 2010 election when the GOP took both the House and Senate.

Figures said it’s important for all voices to be heard.

“That’s why we never want a total Democratic government and total Republican government,” Figures said. “I think that in order for Alabama to move forward, we have to come together and put aside all of this partisan politics.”

Figures said she finds common ground with the BCA on one issue. “I am definitely an advocate for education,” she said.

Figures is known for legislation to regulate smoking. She passed the Alabama Clean Indoor Act in 2003 that bans smoking in certain public places and requests that employers adopt a smoking policy and provide smoke-free work areas.

Figures seeks to replace the 2003 law with the provisions of SB195 that she has introduced in the 2013 legislative session.

If SB195 becomes law, smoking would be prohibited in private businesses and public places and certain outdoor areas.

It has 17 cosponsors from both parties and is in the Senate Health Committee.

The bill addresses clean air and the effects of second-hand smoke and would trump private business ownership decisions.

“It has come to our attention that a lot of business owners don’t want to be told don’t smoke in their establishments that they own,” she said. “I feel when something is happening that is going to cause harm to another person then your rights stop there.”

Figures said limiting exposure to second-hand smoke can help the bottom line.

“It affects economic development,” she said. “We can save millions of dollars in health care costs, protect employees who work in particular businesses.”

The legislation specifically exempts private clubs and private residences not used for child or adult care, or as a health care facility. It would establish requirements for owners, operators, managers, and employers.

Local governments could adopt stricter standards, the legislation states.

– Dana Beyerle