The Texas Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bipartisan package of bills that would pull $1.8 billion from the state's rainy day fund to aid in Hurricane Harvey recovery and plan for and protect against future storms. The legislation was named a top priority by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Here’s a rundown of the bills:
- Senate Bill 6 would require the Texas Division of Emergency Management to create guides for local officials on both disaster response and recovery and how to manage debris removal. It also would require the division to establish a work group to study how best to train and credential local emergency management directors.
- Senate Bill 7 would revamp a fund already administered by the Texas Water Development Board that helps pay for flood control projects. The new Texas Infrastructure Resilience Fund, or TIRF, would contain four different pots of money totaling more than $1.6 billion. One account would be to help Harvey-impacted communities with the so-called “matching funds” they need to secure billions more in federal recovery dollars. Another would help finance projects included in a statewide flood plan.
- Senate Bill 8 would create an official statewide flood plan that would look much like the water development board’s State Water Plan, which is published every five years. The plan — consisting of a list of flood control projects — also would be compiled by regions across the state that would manage different watersheds. The bill also calls for the creation of a 10-year plan to repair and maintain unsafe dams in the state. It is expected to cost $47 million over the next two years.
The package would be funded by money from the state’s emergency savings account. The Senate has proposed spending $3 billion total out of the rainy day fund for Harvey-related expenses, including assistance to impacted school districts.
During public hearings on the legislation, local officials and community and flood planning groups expressed overwhelming support. Environmental groups, meanwhile, said they did not oppose the bills but hoped that the funding provided would go toward not just large-scale flood control projects but also green infrastructure initiatives aimed at preserving open space.
Sen. Charles Perry, a Lubbock Republican who is the primary author of SB 8 and heads the committee that took public testimony on all three bills, appeared amenable to their request.
"I would hope it’s a strategy that’s on the table,” he said.
On Wednesday, the bills generated little debate and no opposition. Instead, both Democrats and Republicans rose to deliver glowing accolades.
Senators made some tweaks to the legislation before votes were cast. Citing cost concerns, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican who is the primary author of SB 6, asked senators to approved the removal of language from her bill that would have created a disaster recovery task force. A spokesman for Kolkhorst said the bill now contains no fiscal note, meaning it wouldn't require any additional state funding if passed.
And Sen. Eddie Lucio, a Brownsville Democrat, successfully offered an amendment to SB 6 that would require the state to study the creation of a single intake application for federal and state assistance.
Patrick said the unanimous passage of each bill was “one of the greatest achievements that I've seen since I've been in the Senate.”
The three bills will now go to the Texas House for consideration.
Reporter Alex Samuels contributed to this report