State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

State Legislatures Continue to Enact Disaster Policies in 2023

As the 2023 hurricane season officially begins, state legislatures have so far kept pace with related legislative activity of prior years. Disaster resilience bills enacted so far reflect a range of topics both similar to and divergent from 2021-22 trends. These results, and the methodology behind them, can be found in a December report on the 2022 legislative session from Columbia Climate School’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness.

 

Map of the US depicting states color-coded by number of bills passed (between 1 and 16)
Total bills enacted by each state, as of late April 2023.

As of late April, 25 states had already passed 103 bills relating to disaster resilience. West Virginia and New Mexico lead this group with 16 and 15 enacted bills, respectively, or about a third of all disaster bills, while North Dakota and Utah followed with 11 and 10 bills, respectively.

At the time of this sampling (late April), 13 states — Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, South Dakota, Kansas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, West Virginia, and Virginia — had all adjourned their regular sessions for the year. Other states are also adjourning in rapid fire at this time of year, with at least an additional 11 states having adjourned since April. That still leaves about half of states still in session —  including such key states for disaster preparedness as Texas, Florida, California, Hawaii, and New York —  so there is plenty of time for additional legislative activity in the coming months.

Bar graph showing the number of bills passed by category of bill.

The disaster bills already enacted reflect an interesting snapshot of 2023 legislative sessions. In keeping with last year, the National Center for Disaster Preparedness categories of funding, governance, and safety and security are dominating state disaster policy trends so far, relating to 62, 41, and 35 percent of enacted bills, respectively.

At least 16 states have also advanced 78 disaster bills past one chamber — a significant hurdle which bodes well for these bills’ chances of enactment or consideration in future sessions. Of these states, six had yet to adjourn for the year.

Funding

In the 2023 legislative session so far, 22 states have enacted 64 bills related to the appropriation or allocation of funding for disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. These bills represent nearly two-thirds of all disaster legislation enacted this session to date. Of these, 47 fund state agencies and programs, 30 relate to federal funding, 28 provide funding to counties and municipalities or other political subdivisions, 20 provide assistance to individuals or households, 18 fund resilience through cost-sharing and matching mechanisms, 12 provide funding to the private and nonprofit sectors, and three relate to insurance mechanisms to fund disaster mitigation. For example, North Dakota enacted H.B. 1070, a bill that would utilize federal Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation (STORM) Act funds to establish a program offering low-interest loans to counties and cities for projects that will reduce disaster risks.

Meanwhile, 14 states have advanced 45 funding bills past one chamber this session as states continue to deliberate large funding packages often until the very end of session.

Governance

During the 2022-23 legislative session so far, 15 states enacted at least 43 bills related to changes in emergency management governance, including administrative, jurisdictional, and reporting changes. Nearly half of all disaster bills enacted so far contain governance provisions. Numerous states created disaster recovery funds or re-defined eligibility guidelines. Governance bills largely overlapped with the safety and security category, focusing on establishing new agencies and roles to improve state disaster management capacity, reforming national guard activation procedures, and intergovernmental cooperation in disaster operations. For example, West Virginia S.B. 128 limits and clarifies the governor’s authorities during, and in declaring, a state of emergency.

Meanwhile, 11 states have passed 28 governance bills through one chamber.

Safety and Security

So far, 15 states have enacted 36 bills this session related to safety and security and passed 25 bills through one chamber. These bills currently represent a third of all enacted disaster bills, and those that have passed one chamber. They generally aim to modify the responsibilities, compensation, and protections of disaster response and recovery workforces, as well as create new categories of first responders and emergency managers to respond to new or elevated disaster risks. This type of bill jumped from barely 6 percent of enacted disaster bills last session, to 25 percent so far this year. For example, Kentucky HB 157 creates and funds the Kentucky Urban Search and Rescue Program to develop state search and rescue efforts, coordinating with response efforts by other states and the federal government.

Health and Human Services: Housing, Health and Medical, Food and Water

Fourteen states have enacted 52 bills related to health and human services, meaning half of the disaster bills enacted to date relate to health and human services. With 30 food and water bills, water reforms in particular dominated this category, many from the New Mexico legislature. Some of the states of the Colorado River basin recently negotiated cutbacks in usage due to drought. States have sought to address drought and water scarcity issues by passing legislation establishing agencies whose primary responsibility is water resilience and establishing funds for water and agriculture projects to mitigate the increasingly common impacts of drought and wildfires. At 22 bills, the health and medical category also accounted for a significant portion. While these bills focused on providing virtual health care services during emergencies and establishing health-related disaster and crisis support teams, there was also an overlap with declared disaster or health emergencies. At nine bills, housing held the smallest portion. These bills primarily focused on building heating and cooling reliability, property recovery post-disaster and establishing construction criteria.

For example, Utah H.B. 150 allows the governor to declare a temporary water shortage emergency by executive order for causes other than drought, during which the state can seize water from farmers for drinking, sanitation, fire suppression, electricity generation and others.

Critical Infrastructure: Energy, Transportation, Communications

To date, 13 states have enacted 32 bills concerning critical infrastructure resilience. These bills represent a third of all legislation enacted in state legislatures so far this session. Among these, 16 relate to energy — including grid resiliency, energy efficiency, often overlapping with renewable energy investments. Fourteen bills contain transportation provisions, including resilience upgrades and expansions of existing road and highway infrastructure, public transit investments, and the maintenance of emergency evacuation and supply delivery routes during disaster events. Further, 18 of these bills relate to communications systems, including upgrades to 9-1-1 services, communications equipment for first responders and emergency managers, and data security protections for essential emergency communications technologies.

For example, Washington HB 1329 prevents electricity shutoffs for failure to pay during extreme heatwaves, and requires utilities to offer payment plan options to low-income residents.

These findings are reflective of trends seen last year as well as those reflected in 2023 prefiled bills; however, it will be interesting to monitor how these trends evolve over the rest of the state legislative sessions. With roughly half of states yet to adjourn (at the time of this sampling) we expect substantial activity on these issues in the coming months.

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

Abigail Menendez is an intern at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the Columbia Climate School and a 2023 graduate in the M.A. in Climate and Society Program at the Columbia Climate School.

Gillian McBride is a student employee at the National center for Disaster Preparedness at the Columbia Climate School and 2023 graduate of the M.P.A. in Energy and Environmental Policy Program at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs.

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