Legislature passes funding measure for state tornado relief
Published: May 23rd, 2013
OKLAHOMA CITY – A unanimous state House of Representatives has approved Senate Bill 249, approving a $45 drawdown from the Constitutional Reserve (widely known as the Rainy Day Fund).
The measure will finance a portion of the state’s response to a recent wave of tornadoes, most notably the May 20 storm that wreaked havoc in Moore. Meanwhile, a late push for a pay hike for state Troopers may fall short.
The $45 million triggered by S.B. 249 will match a portion of federal funds being allocated to local governments for relief programs. The vote was 95-0, with six members not voting.
We lost 26 Oklahomans and hundreds continue to suffer due to this tragedy,” said Representative John Echols, R-Oklahoma City. Twenty-four died in the Moore tornado, designated an F-5 storm, the strongest on the Fujita scale that measures intensity.
It is of the greatest priority that we come together as a legislature and provide help when our people are most vulnerable. We are a strong state made of strong people. We will overcome this tragedy and we will rebuild,” Echols said.
Tragedy has once again fallen upon our great state,” said state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore.
In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK after passage of S.B. 249 on March 23 (Thursday), Wesselhoft said, Communities have been destroyed and lives have been ended, all too soon. The world has been watching and Oklahoma and has proven that we are a brave people able to unite and rise above this challenging time. I give my thanks to my fellow lawmakers for their votes.”
Commissioner of Insurance John Doak said this week the damage in Moore could be more than $2 billion. Whether that is borne out, analysts believe the sum will be greater than the $1 billion+ from the May 3, 1999 tornado in more or less the same part of the metropolitan area.
Estimates on the number of buildings destroyed or rendered unusable vary, but the number of homes alone might reach 13,000. Through early on May 23, 4,000 home and automobile insurance claims had been filed, Doak’s office estimated.
“The devastation that has fallen upon my district and this state is indescribable,” said state Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, in comments sent to CapitolBeatOK. “Oklahomans are facing a great hardship and the road to recovery will be long. I applaud my fellow lawmakers for their united compassion.”
The House author of S.B. 249, Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, commented, “The people of Oklahoma have placed their trust in us as elected officials. With that trust comes the responsibility to do what is right. By opening our hearts and through God’s guidance, I believe this chamber’s unanimous passage of this measure reinforces our commitment to the people of this state. This legislature is united. We are Oklahomans.”
Senate sponsor of S.B. 249 was Anthony Sykes, R-Moore. He told colleagues the legislation allowing access to “these emergency funds” was critical. Sykes advocated for the measure before it sailed to 45-0 approval on Wednesday (May 22).
Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, deemed the measure “a small but appropriate step to support our communities.”
Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, minority leader in the upper chamber, said accessing the fund was “the least we can do to assist our fellow Oklahomans, and I hope this is only the first step we take as a legislature to help those whose lives have been impacted by this tragedy.”
Gov. Mary Fallin, who supported using money from the reserve for storm response, is expected to sign the legislation.
SB 249 will now go to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin, who seems likely to sign it within a few hours.
Tuesday, Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, had announced House Republicans would support tapping the fund to finance the state’s part in tornado relief.
Some Republicans – with a unanimous Democratic caucus in agreement – have also referenced the tornado response in pressing anew for a pay hike for Oklahoma’s Highway Patrol Troopers.
Last month, the Senate unanimously approved a pay hike. In the lower chamber Speaker Shannon moved this week to co-sponsor that pay raise measure, House Bill 2145, with state Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview.
Shannon praised law enforcement personnel “who are on the frontlines tirelessly working to save the people of this great state.”
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, backed use of the Rainy Day Fund for tornado relief, and also pressed Republicans to support a pay hike for Troopers. With the Legislature hoping to adjourn tomorrow (a week before the constitutional deadline of the last Friday in May), a trooper pay hike might not pass this year.
Previously, Gov. Fallin has said she prefers waiting for completion of a state employee compensation study before enacting any pay hikes. Public employee associations decry there have been no pay increases since before the start of the Great Recession in 2008.