Panel OKs suggestions for disaster response

A House committee examining the state’s response to a spate of natural disasters approved recommendations Wednesday including allowing out-of-state health care providers to help when a state of emergency is declared in Missouri.

The Interim Committee on Disaster Recover voted 9-2 in favor of the committee report. The panel’s chairman, Republican House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, called the report a “template” that would be helpful for lawmakers during their annual legislative session that starts next month.

Rep. Terry Swinger, D-Caruthersville, expressed some concerns, including that the governor’s ability to act swiftly in responding to disasters could be limited.

The committee examined responses to numerous storms and severe weather that hit Missouri the past year. A blizzard slammed the state in February. Months later, tornadoes struck Joplin, Sedalia and the St. Louis area. And severe flooding inundated communities along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

The report recommends allowing doctors, nurses and other medical providers licensed in other states to assist in disaster zones when a Missouri governor declares a state of emergency. It also calls for allowing waivers for some licensing requirements for construction-related industries to help speed up rebuilding.

Other recommendations include:

• Setting up a joint legislative oversight committee if officials decide to tap a special budget reserve fund, called the “Rainy Day Fund.” So far, no money has been spent from that fund, which would require a request from the governor and approval by the Legislature.

• Allowing damaged buildings and structures on commercial property to be removed from tax rolls after natural disasters until they can be used again. This idea is modeled after an existing law letting Missouri counties adopt ordinances that permit residential structures to be removed from tax rolls when made uninhabitable by natural disasters. Similar legislation was considered this fall during a special session.

• Establishing special Tax Increment Financing districts in disaster areas that would permit a portion of the growth in state and local tax revenues from those disaster zones to help finance redevelopment efforts. The idea also was considered during the fall special session.

• Providing no-interest loans to offset insurance deductibles, help property owners who are not assisted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or help people without insurance for damaged property.

• Giving communities affected by disasters technical advice about how to use municipal, private and volunteer workers to maximize their ability to be reimbursed for costs.

• Making standard policy the decision by state departments after the Joplin tornado to coalesce their representatives at one location in the community.

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