from the office of State Senator Judith Zaffirini

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Nick Almanza
(512) 463-0121
January 31, 2007

Senate Transportation Committee Unanimously Approves SB 61 by Zaffirini to Improve Emergency Preparedness

AUSTIN -- The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security on Wednesday (January 31) unanimously recommended to the Senate that it pass Senate Bill 61 by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which authorizes Texas counties to adopt an internal plan for delegation of administrative authorities, chain of succession to cover essential county functions and meeting procedures during a catastrophic event or declared disaster.

The bill significantly would assist county government officials who, under current law, are bound by statutory requirements that may not allow them to mitigate significant administrative hindrances during a declared emergency or catastrophic event.

"This bill can help improve state public safety by ensuring local governments are unfettered during a catastrophe," said Senator Zaffirini. "I truly am pleased that the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee reported SB 61 favorably to the full Senate, and I look forward to working with my colleagues toward its final passage."

Current law does not explicitly authorize local governments to adopt and implement internal emergency plans for delegating administrative authorities, designating chain of succession, and meeting procedures during a declared emergency.

What's more, quorum requirements for county commissioners courts are set fourth in state statutes and provide no exceptions to the requirement that "three members of the commissioners court constitute a quorum." County governments would have to meet in violation of state law if a disaster incapacitated enough members to constitute a quorum in a commissioners' court.

SB 61 will allow county governments to increase response times, guarantee the operational status of essential services and assure their constituencies that local government facilities are fully functional and working to protect public safety and the county infrastructure.

"In the wake of hurricane evacuations that affected several counties across central Texas and heightened security levels issued from federal and state homeland security agencies, legislators must do everything possible to allow our communities to prepare for all contingencies." Senator Zaffirini said.

"Families rely upon their local governments to keep them safe and to provide essential information and guidance during a catastrophe. SB 61 ensures that, during an emergency, the last thing county governments will have to worry about are statutory requirements that prevent commissioners courts from meeting and developing emergency plans to keep families in their counties safe."

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