Several high priority House bills relating to disaster relief have been filed and heard in committee hearings recently. HB 6 and HB 7 were filed late last week by Chair Geanie Morrison (R- Victoria). In HB 6, the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) would develop a Disaster Recovery Task Force to assist communities and individuals with specialized assistance including financial issues, federal assistance programs, and recovery and resiliency planning to streamline and speed recovery at the local level.
HB 7 would help state agencies and local jurisdictions eliminate administrative red tape that can slow down effective emergency management functions. Part of eliminating the red tape includes the Governor’s office compiling and maintaining a standing list of regulatory waivers needed during a disaster, compiling statutes or rules that must be suspended during an emergency, and working out partnership agreements and contracted services before a disaster strikes.
Both pieces of legislation were filed to improve disaster preparation and recovery in Texas and should soon be heard in committee. House Bill 6 and 7 were drafted from policy recommendations made by the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas, created in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey to ensure Texas would be better prepared to withstand future disasters. Chairwoman Morrison filed these two bills as part of a larger package of Harvey-inspired legislation with the goal of reducing red tape for Texans during and after a natural disaster. HB 6 and HB 7 have been set for hearing Wednesday, March 20th in Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee.
HB 2305, also by Morrison, was heard in the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, March 13. TDEM would establish a work group of persons knowledgeable on emergency management to study and develop a proposal for enhancing the training and credentials of emergency management directors, emergency management coordinators, and other emergency management personnel on the state or local level. The work group would also review current required training courses and consult with Texas A&M University and other institutions of higher education on development of degree programs in emergency management.
Of issue is, as the bill sets forth, whether the legislature should enact laws requiring the emergency management director or coordinators to participate in training and credentials before overseeing the response and recovery from a disaster and whether to include disaster finance, disaster contracting, damage assessment and debris management in order to participate in federal emergency management programs. Proposals for paying for more training than currently required and on whether to include incentives to complete additional training and continuing education in the bill have raised questions whether the legislation includes mandates or would eventually result in higher costs for the county to cover training and education. The author responded that HB 2305 has no mandates but noted dealing with FEMA, record keeping and federal reimbursements require extensive knowledge. Rep. Morrison noted the goal of the work group is to do a better job along with local elected officials. HB 2305 was left pending in committee.
Update to Senate Disaster Response Bill: SB 6 by Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham)
SB 6 would create the disaster response and recovery guide through the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) to provide a comprehensive approach to disaster recovery for local officials by contracting for debris removal; obtaining federal disaster funding; coordinating the availability and construction of short-term housing and long-term housing; and obtaining assistance from local, state and federal volunteer organizations. The legislation also includes a catastrophic debris management plan and training for clearance and disposal of disaster debris for political subdivisions, a study group to prevent creation of wet debris following a disaster and an emergency management work group for enhancing the training and credentialing of emergency management directors and emergency management coordinators.
The committee substitute laid out Monday in Senate Water and Rural Affairs includes language for TDEM to develop a disaster recovery task force providing special assistance to address financial issues, available federal assistance programs and recovery and resiliency planning to speed recovery at the local level. The committee substitute to SB 6 was voted favorably from committee and has been placed on Senate Intent Calendar beginning Monday, March 18th.