By Aurora Flores
As one of Gov. Abbott’s emergency items for the 86th Legislative Session, Hurricane Harvey-related legislation for disaster relief, response and recovery has now become law. The high priority and low numbered bills originated from policy recommendations made by the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas.
They included a great amount of input from county officials in testimony given during the House and Senate interim hearings. The input provided resulted in many items of importance for rural counties that lack the resources, funding and manpower to sustain long-term recovery efforts.
The list in this article is not comprehensive, but will include most of the important highlights of each piece of legislation. In addition, several pieces of legislation that did not pass because of procedural deadlines, are included in some of these bills that did become law.
HB 5 by Phelan creates a catastrophic debris management plan to help with contracting standards for debris removal and a wet debris study group to determine responsibility for wet debris. Two pieces of legislation aimed at the long term recovery necessary after a storm’s damage, and based on the needs shared by local elected officials, are HB 6 and HB 7 by Morrison. Effective Sept. 1, 2019.
HB 6 by Morrison develops a disaster recovery task force through the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) to help local communities throughout the long-term recovery period following natural and man-made disasters. It provides specialized assistance for communities and individuals to address financial issues, available federal assistance programs, and recovery and resiliency planning to speed local-level recovery efforts. The bill authorizes the task force to include and use the resources of any appropriate state agencies, including institutions of higher education, and of organized volunteer groups; requires the task force to develop procedures for preparing and issuing a report listing each project related to a disaster that qualifies for federal assistance and requires a report to be submitted to the appropriate federal agencies as soon as practicable after any disaster; requires the task force to provide a quarterly briefing to members of the legislature, legislative staff, and state agency personnel on the response and recovery efforts for previous disasters and on any preparation or planning for potential future hazards, threats, or disasters. TDEM provided an exceptional item request for the disaster recovery task force, and the $10.4 million in funding was placed in HB 1 by Zerwas, the General Appropriations Act.
HB 6 also includes:
- An emergency management program maintained by a county, or in which a county participates, to provide for catastrophic debris management not later than Jan. 1, 2020.
- Subjects an emergency management coordinator designated by the emergency management director of a county with a population of 500,000 or more to certain emergency management training requirements under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975. Each person required must complete the training not later than March 1, 2020. Effective Sept. 1, 2019.
- Defines “coastal county,” as any county adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico or Corpus Christi Bay and requires the comptroller of public accounts beginning Sept. 1, 2021, and not later than Sept. 30 of each state fiscal year to: (1) compute the amount of revenue derived from the collection of taxes imposed under this chapter (Hotel Occupancy Tax) at a rate of two percent and received from hotels located in coastal counties during the preceding state fiscal year; and (2) transfer that amount to the coastal erosion response account. HB 6 is effective Sept. 1, 2019.
HB 7 by Morrison maintains a standing list of regulatory statutes and rules that may require suspension during a disaster and developing a plan to assist political subdivisions with executing contracts for services they likely need following a disaster. Effective Sept. 1, 2019.
HB 2345 by Walle requires the Texas Water Development Board to create a comprehensive inventory of needed mitigation and resiliency projects statewide, by establishing the Institute for a Disaster Resilient Texas, and by establishing the Flood Event Partnership Options Special Study Committee. Effective June 14, 2019.
HB 2794 by Morrison transfers the administration of TDEM from the Department of Public Safety of the State of Texas (DPS) to The Texas A&M University (TAMU) System on Sept. 1, 2019. On that date, the bill provides for the continuance of all DPS rules, policies, procedures, and decisions relating to the administration of TDEM and makes an employee of TDEM as operated by DPS a TDEM employee under the university system. Effective June 10, 2019.
SB 6 by Kolkhorst creates the disaster response and recovery guide through 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. $10 million for SB 6 is appropriated to the Department of Public Safety in HB 1 General Revenue for transfer to the newly created Disaster Recovery Loan Program Account – a program administered by TDEM to provide short-term loans for disaster recovery projects to eligible political subdivisions.
SB 6 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.
- Creates a disaster recovery loan program, established by TDEM, the Disaster Recovery Loan Account, to consist of money appropriated, created or transferred by the Legislature; money received by the Comptroller for the repayment of loans made from the account; and interest earned on deposits and investments of the account. The legislation allows an eligible county, city or school district located wholly or partly in an area declared to be a disaster by the governor or president of the United States to apply to TDEM for a loan if within 15 days of adopting its operating budget and TDEM along with FEMA determine the estimated cost to rebuild the political subdivision’s infrastructure was greater than 50 percent of total revenue for the current year, among other items.
- Also requires the Health and Human Services Commission and TDEM to conduct a study to determine the feasibility of developing a single intake form that would compile all information needed to obtain disaster assistance from multiple state and federal programs for an individual who needs assistance as a result of a disaster; an automated intake system for collecting the information; to coordinate with FEMA and other appropriate state and federal agencies to conduct the study and determine whether the single intake form will be accepted. Not later than Sept. 1, 2020, a written report will be submitted containing the findings of the study and any recommendations to the legislature. This section’s provisions expire Jan. 1, 2021. SB 6 is effective Sept. 1, 2019.
SB 201 by Huffman increases the criminal penalties for arson, burglary of vehicles, and criminal trespass taking place in disaster or in an evacuated area. Effective Sept. 1, 2019.
SB 289 by Lucio allows local governments to establish disaster recovery plans and establish procedures for state review of those plans. The bill designates the Texas General Land Office (GLO) as the state agency that received and administered federal and state funds appropriated for long-term disaster recovery unless the governor designated a different agency. The GLO will collaborate with the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and seek prior approval from FEMA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the immediate post-disaster implementation of its accepted local housing recovery plans. The GLO could adopt rules to implement the bill’s provisions and would have to maintain a division with adequate staffing for those purposes. Effective Sept. 1, 2019.
SB 799 by Alvarado creates a business advisory council to provide advice and expertise on actions state and local governments can take to assist businesses in recovering from a disaster. Requires the advisory council to advise the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) on policies, rules, and program operations to assist businesses in recovering from a disaster and propose solutions to address inefficiencies or problems in the state or local governmental disaster response with respect to impact on businesses and the economy.
SB 799 also:
- Advises TDEM on the state resources and services needed to assist businesses in recovering from a catastrophic loss of electric power.
- Establishes the wet debris work group composed of representatives of the division, any other state agencies selected by the division, and local and federal governmental entities, with the chief of the division serving as the chair of the work group.
- Creates a disaster recovery loan program, established by (TDEM), the Disaster Recovery Loan Account, to consist of money appropriated, created or transferred by the Legislature; money received by the Comptroller for the repayment of loans made from the account; and interest earned on deposits and investments of the account. The legislation allows an eligible county, city or school district located wholly or partly in an area declared to be a disaster by the governor or president of the United States to apply to TDEM for a loan if within 15 days of adopting its operating budget and TDEM along with FEMA determine the estimated cost to rebuild the political subdivision’s infrastructure was greater than 50 percent of total revenue for the current year, among other items.
- Transfers the administration of TDEM from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to The Texas A&M University (TAMU) System on Sept. 1, 2019.
- Includes language from HB 6 by Morrison. (see HB 6 summary above)
This Act takes effect Sept. 1, 2019, except Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9 which take effect immediately.
SB 986 by Kohlkorst requires the comptroller of public accounts to update the statewide contract management guide to include contract management standards and information for contracts related to emergency management. Effective Sept. 1, 2019.
These bills address all facets of disaster response and recovery, including the development of a disaster recovery task force to assist with financial issues, resiliency planning, eliminating red tape by maintaining a standing list of regulatory waivers needed during a disaster, per-approved contracts for debris removal and coordinating the availability and construction of short-term and long-term housing, among many other much needed items.
The Hurricane Harvey-related legislation has the common goal of helping local communities respond more quickly because of improved recovery processes.