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What Climate Resilience Policies Are in Store for State Legislatures in 2023?

With a busy 2021-2022 legislative session behind them, states are shifting gears this month to 2023 sessions. As of the new year, 32 states have already begun prefiling for the 2023 legislative session. Of these, nine states — Montana, Texas, South Carolina, Missouri, Washington, Arkansas, Florida, Virginia, and Delaware — have prefiled at least 39 bills related to disaster resilience. These reflect a range of topics both similar to and divergent from predominant 2021-22 trends. Prefiled bills together with bills left pending from the 2021-22 legislative session — especially those that advanced past at least one chamber — may give us a glimpse into what states will consider in 2023.

Unfinished work from 2022

The recent report on the 2022 legislative session from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Columbia Climate School found that 42 states enacted at least 211 disaster bills last session. The greatest share of enacted bills related to funding and governance (i.e., emergency management reform), followed by land use, communications, and safety and security.

2022 spending bills by category

However, states considered far more bills than were enacted, and 15 of those bills advanced past the first chamber — a significant hurdle. While funding, governance, and communications led this grouping of bills, the content was pretty varied. For example, Illinois considered SB 18, an earlier/contributing version of the successful Energy Transition Act, which placed energy grid resilience alongside emissions reduction measures by investing in resilient electricity transmission and requiring utilities to demonstrate how they are achieving grid resilience/reliability and equity goals. A measure in Massachusetts (an earlier/contributing bill to the successful annual appropriations package) would have directed some remaining Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for certain climate, flood, and heat resilience measures — a fairly common use at the state level for these COVID funds in recent years. A few bills in New Jersey and North Carolina emphasized workplace and mental health protections and assistance for first responders and disaster volunteers. The success of these and other measures left pending may suggest their reconsideration in the upcoming session.

Legislative outlook for 2023

2023 prefiled bills by category. governance and safety and security are the leading categoriesSome bills are already in play for 2023. The prefiling process allows legislators and legislative staff to expedite administrative processes required to introduce/advance a bill (e.g., drafting text, gathering signatures, committee referral, and getting on committee agenda), giving prefiled measures the best possible chance at consideration and possibly enactment. Among the 39 disaster bills already prefiled, governance remained a leading category. So far, this is driven by several emergency management bills in Montana that aim to apply broad reforms to emergency management in the state (though importantly, several of their bill texts are not yet available, so the specifics are TBD). It is also driven by bills in Montana, Texas, Washington, and South Carolina — nearly half of states that have prefiled disaster bills — that limit the governor’s emergency powers. Most aim to reduce the duration of the emergency without further legislative action or approval or otherwise limit the governor’s legal authority during a state of emergency. This type of bill increased in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as governors had to use these authorities on a much larger scale.

Texas is in session this year after skipping the last legislative session, and lawmakers have already prefiled at least 8 disaster bills. These include:

  • HB 570, which directs the Division of Emergency Management to conduct a study of the potential effects of droughts and wildfires in the state over the next 50 years;
  • HB 57, which directs the Commission on Environmental Quality to publish a climate change impact report every four years, including a greenhouse gas inventory; and
  • HB 795, which requires nursing and assisted living facilities to install emergency generators or other power sources for use in the event of a grid-disrupting disaster.

2023 total bills by stateOverall, funding and governance issues continue to lead in 2021-22 enacted bills, pending bills that passed one chamber, and 2023-24 prefiled bills. Safety and security are newly dominant in 2023 prefiled disaster bills, and it will be interesting to monitor whether that remains the case as sessions progress.

There are also several states meeting this year that did not convene last year. This includes Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and perhaps most interesting, Texas — the notoriously disaster-prone state with “small government” values.

Broader federal context also provides its own possible foreshadowing of state action. Last year, Louisiana, Hawaii, Maryland, and Virginia all passed legislation that would utilize the federal STORM Act funding to establish state-level mitigation revolving loan funds. New York’s SB 8853 would have done the same but did not advance past its first committee. This limited activity may be a reflection of the fact that while Congress passed the STORM Act in 2020, it was only funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) nearly a year later and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released the official Notice of Funding Opportunity only two weeks ago. So we may see more states continue to take advantage of this funding opportunity in 2023. Likewise, states passed more disaster communications bills last session than energy or transportation bills, but as the IIJA, Inflation Reduction Act, and federal 2021 spending bills emphasize climate adaptation alongside emissions reduction measures, particularly in the transportation and energy sector, states may be incentivized to focus more on those sectors.

Lucia Bragg is a policy manager and instructor for the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Columbia Climate School.

Gillian McBride, a graduate student in the Master of Public Administration program at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, and Abigail Menendez, a graduate student in the Masters in Climate and Society program at the Columbia Climate School, contributed to the research discussed in this post. 

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