Published 6:00 pm Saturday, March 23, 2019

(Austin)  The Senate gave unanimous assent to a three-bill package of legislation Wednesday aimed at helping communities still dealing with the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey and preparing the state for the next natural disaster.  Under Lubbock Senator Charles Perry’s SB 8, state agencies would work with regional partners to generate a statewide flood mitigation plan. Headed up by the Texas Water Development Board, the process described by the bill would focus on flood planning by watershed for the first time, said Perry, and it’s something the state should’ve done long ago.  “As I was going through the process of developing this bill, it was clear to me that we’ve had many, many projects over the past several decades that were great ideas,” he said. “Had they only been implemented or funded or made a priority, Harvey’s effects would’ve been minimized.” The bill would also require that the TWDB ensure regional flood plans don’t conflict with or negatively impact neighboring areas.  

SB 6, by Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst, also looks to the next storm by creating a “how-to” manual for local officials dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster.  The bill would leverage experience at state disaster response agencies by directing them to develop a model guide to help officials apply for federal aid, work with volunteer aid organizations, provide for short- and long-term housing needs and remove debris.  It would also direct these agencies to devise a program to train and certify emergency management directors.

Paying for all of this is Conroe Senator Brandon Creighton’s SB 7, which would create the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund.  Appropriated $1.65 billion in rainy day funds under the Senate’s supplemental budget proposal last week, this fund would offer grants and low- or no-interest loans to design and build flood mitigation projects from the flood planning process created in SB 8.  It would also draw down federal aid money by offering up three-quarters of the fund matching requirement to communities applying for federal disaster aid or flood mitigation programs.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick praised members for their unanimous and swift action on this issue.  “Members, the fact that Senate Bills 6, 7 and 8 will pass thirty-one to nothing on each bill, I think is one of the greatest achievements that I’ve seen since I’ve been in the Senate of moving significant legislation forward,” he said from the Senate rostrum.  “I thank every one of you for realizing these are statewide issues and coming together to help your fellow senators who were in specific need.”

In committee this week, a number of key bills had hearings before Senate panels.  This includes:

  • SB 21, by Houston Senator Joan Huffman, which would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco or nicotine products from 18 to 21.
  • SB 22, by New Braunfels Senator Donna Campbell, would put in a statute what has been a fiscal policy of disallowing state money going to abortion providers, and extend this prohibition to local tax dollars.
  • SJR 24, by Kolkhorst, would ask voters to approve the dedication of all revenues from the state sporting goods sales tax to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Historical Commission.
  • SB 653, by Edgewood Senator Bob Hall, would bar cities from enforcing red light violations using intersection cameras.
  • SB 1264 – by North Richland Hills Senator Kelly Hancock, would prohibit “surprise billing” from out-of-network emergency health care or non-network providers at in-network hospitals.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 25 at 10:30 a.m.