$1.8 Billion Disaster Relief Legislation Making Its Way Through State Capitol

Chris Fox
March 21, 2019 - 10:47 am
Texas Capitol Building

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AUSTIN (1080 KRLD) - Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and members of the Senate announced at a State Capitol press conference on Wednesday the filing of three bills aimed at helping communities recover from Hurricane Harvey and preparing for future disasters.

"We said at the time, we would dedicate ourselves to helping people rebuild their homes, their businesses, their communities," said Patrick. "You can't prevent 60 inches of rain falling, but we can do everything we can to mitigate those issues in the future." The three bills announced Wednesday would seek to fulfil that pledge.

SB 6 by Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst, seeks to keep county and city leaders informed on the best practices for disaster response. The bill would direct the Department of Emergency Management at DPS to develop a manual to serve as a guide for local officials on debris removal, applying for federal aid, working with non-profit relief organizations and handling housing needs in both the short- and long-term. "Senate Bill 6 will serve as a road map to prepare our state for future hurricanes and natural disasters," said Kolkhorst. Additionally, it would commission experts in disaster response to develop a system to train and credential emergency management directors to oversee response and recovery efforts.

SB 7, by Conroe Senator Brandon Creighton, would create a special fund to pay for flood mitigation projects, hurricane recovery and provide matching funds to pull down federal dollars. Many federal programs have very generous fund matches, up to nine federal dollars for every state dollar, but local entities still have to come up with the initial funds to draw down that federal aid.

The framework created under the bill would provide that stake money. "We all know over years and years, we've been a donor state in many different categories," said Creighton. "It's time to get our Texas dollars back and working for us".

Lubbock Senator Charles Perry is the lead author for SB 8, aimed at creating the first statewide flood plan. Perry said that the historic flooding from the hurricane highlighted flood mitigation needs that have gone unaddressed for too long. Under the bill, the Texas Water Development Board would ensure that regions work together and that a mitigation plan in one area doesn't conflict with a mitigation plan in another. "Senate Bill 8 is meant to ensure the communication and coordination amongst all of the local entities, that have good ideas, will not conflict with other good ideas in the region," said Perry. These regional plans would be combined into the statewide flood plan.

Patrick said that $3 billion will be drawn from the Rainy Day Fund to pay for Harvey recovery: $1.8 billion to fund the bills announced Wednesday and $1.2 billion to pay back recovery and response costs incurred by local and state agencies during the last year and a half. Some of that money will also go towards school districts to cover tax revenue lost due to the devaluation of property from storm damage.