From the 86th: Disaster Related Bills

Following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, it was clear that a top priority of this year’s legislature was to address issues coming out of the most significant natural disaster in recent memory in Texas.  There are several bills that passed related to future disaster preparedness.  Many of the bills that passed were a direct result and based on recommendations published earlier from the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas.  All of the bills mention below were passed into law.

HB 5 - Relating to debris management and other disaster recovery efforts.

H.B. 5 would work to ensure that local jurisdictions are better prepared to respond to and recover from natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey in the future by providing for the development of a catastrophic debris management plan and related training.  The bill also sets out other provisions relating to disaster preparedness such as standardizing contracts and the creation of a “wet debris” study.

HB 6 - Relating to disaster relief and recovery.

HB 6 creates a “disaster recovery task force” focused primarily on assisting local areas impact by disasters.  HB 6 is the result of local jurisdictions asking for greater assistance and guidance following a disaster.  The task force will be providing 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 task force will also make quarterly reports to the legislature and state agencies on its work and progress.

HB 7 - Relating to disaster preparation for state agencies and political subdivisions.

This bill essentially does two things.  First, it requires a list of state regulations and statutes that the governor may need to suspend during the time of a disaster to better achieve more rapid recovery.  And second, it would provide state level assistance in the preparation of service contracts for local jurisdictions following a disaster.

HB 492 and HJR 34- Relating to a temporary exemption from ad valorem taxation of a portion of the appraised value of certain property damaged by a disaster.

For more detail on this bill and TMHA successful efforts to amend the bill to including manufactured housing, see our TMHA Priorities article.

HB 1028 – Relating to increasing the criminal penalties for certain offenses committed in a disaster area or an evacuated area.

This bill addresses the concerns that the penalties for certain burglary and arson offenses committed in areas declared a state of disaster or subject to an emergency evacuation order are too lenient given the vulnerability of residents already impacted by the disaster. H.B. 1028 seeks to address this issue by increasing the penalties for certain offenses committed in these areas.

HB 1152 - Relating to the deceptive trade practice of charging exorbitant or excessive prices for necessities during a declared disaster.

HB 1152 adds price gouging on the costs of building materials in the wake of a disaster as a violation of Texas’ Deceptive Trade Practices Act.  The law change adds, “lodging, building materials, and construction tools,” to the prior list in the law against price gouging for fuel, food, and medicine.

HB 2315 - Relating to evidence of ownership of temporary housing provided by a government agency in response to a natural disaster or other declared emergency.

HB 2315 exempts from state level regulation manufactured homes and travel trailers purchased by the federal government and used to provide temporary housing in response to a disaster.  This law change was also a recommendation from the Governor’ Commission to Rebuild Texas.  It also conforms to the prior actual practice of FEMA, and clarifies FEMA units, while used as temporary housing, are exempt from the Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin, and titling requirements in law regulating manufactured homes.

HB 2320 - Relating to services provided during and following a disaster.

This is broad bill, again, originating from the recommendations in the Commission to Rebuild Texas that will continue to improve communications systems that are damaged or destroyed in the early days following a disaster; investigate ways to improve utilities; improve oversight, accountability, and availability of individuals in the building trades (such as plumbers and electricians) offering services to disaster survivors; and increase awareness of utility payment assistance programs. 

Related to the building trades, the bill requires a published report no later than November 1, 2020 to the members of the legislature on strategies to increase the number of building trades persons, increase prosecutions of fraud, and methods to require performance bonds for building trade services.

HB 2340 - Relating to emergency and disaster management, response, and recovery.

HB 2340 looks to study and implement ways to improve and streamline federal laws for emergency management. Data sharing of electronic information and the quality of data available was another serious issue faced in the days of Hurricane Harvey. Certain agencies were unable to "talk" to other agencies because of incompatible data. Meanwhile, drones played an important role in the aftermath of Harvey and this technology is becoming increasingly important during disasters and the laws affecting them should be studied.

SB 6 - Relating to emergency and disaster management, response, and recovery.

Another bill generated by Gov. Abbott’s Commission to Rebuild following Hurricane Harvey.  This bill provides for four major recommendations of: 1) a local government disaster response guide; 2) a catastrophic debris management plan; 3) creation of a emergency management work group to assess training and credentialing of emergency management directors and coordinators; and 4) creation of a disaster recovery loan program for impacted counties, cities or school districts.

SB 289 - Relating to natural disaster housing recovery.

This bill also creates a disaster recovery task force.  However, most of the focus of the bill is on disaster housing recovery efforts.  The bill would permit local governments to devise their housing recovery plans through stakeholder input, and then submit these plans for review to the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University (“the Center”).  The Center then has 11 criteria to establish and then use to review locally submitted plans.  Included in the criteria would be the temporary waiver or modification of existing local ordinances that would expedite providing temporary housing or rebuilding. Once a local plan is approved by the Center, the plan then goes to the General Land Office for further review.

SB 289 would enable local governments some levels of local control and self determination when it comes to planning and executing a local housing recovery plan that provides, “rapid and efficient construction of permanent preplacement housing following a disaster,” but with both academic and state level oversight, assistance and review.

SB 443 - Relating to the period for which a property owner may receive a residence homestead exemption from ad valorem taxation for property that is rendered uninhabitable or unusable as a result of a disaster.

Under Section 11.135 of the Tax Code, a property owner can continue to claim a homestead exemption on a residential structure rendered uninhabitable or un-useable by casualty, wind or water damage for two years after a natural disaster without physically inhabiting the property.  S.B. 443 will extend the two-year limit for claiming homestead exemptions without living on the premises to five years for property located within a disaster area declared by the governor, thus alleviating some of the tax burden on Hurricane Harvey victims during reconstruction. 

This new law is effective immediately starting on June 4, 2019.