Legislation Surrounding Disaster Relief

August 31, 2017|3:01 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

For the past several days, Texas and Louisiana have prepared and responded to the danger and destruction brought on by Hurricane Harvey. On Aug. 23, three days before landfall, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for those counties in the path of the storm. The next day, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a statewide emergency based on the storm’s predicted impact. On Aug. 25, Gov. Abbott requested a federal disaster declaration pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. Gov. Edwards also requested a federal disaster declaration two days later. Both requests were granted, allowing the federal government to provide much needed assistance and resources to Texas and Louisiana residents affected by the storm.

As Texas and Louisiana continue to respond to the devastation wrought by Harvey, other states may wonder about their own emergency preparedness and response abilities. ASTHO’s legislative tracking has identified a few states that considered changes to their laws for responding to emergencies. In Georgia, a bill (HB 487) would have granted paid leave to state agency employees who are certified disaster service volunteers of the Civil Air Patrol United States Air Force Auxiliary when they are activated for disaster relief. West Virginia became the seventeenth state to adopt the Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act (UEVHPA) (SB 398), which allows states to give licensing reciprocity to other states’ health practitioners during a declared emergency, allowing out-of-state practitioners to provide services without meeting the disaster state’s licensing requirements. Furthermore, West Virginia’s secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources is authorized to provide rulemaking under the new law. Maine also considered the enactment of the UEVHPA this year (LD 958).

In Massachusetts, companion bills (HB 2457 and SB 1266) would exempt registered nurses who provide oversight or direct care to disaster victims from liability or professional discipline for any injury or harm resulting from any act or omission as long as they are not criminally negligent. The bills would also deem volunteer registered nurses as state employees and allow compensation for any injury sustained while volunteering during a declared emergency. Finally, in New Mexico, a bill (SB 489) proposed the merger of the state’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department with the Department of Public Safety. 

As Texas and Louisiana recover from the current emergency, lessons on how to conduct emergency preparedness and response activities will be learned and ASTHO will continue to monitor legislative activity impacting state emergency preparedness and response. For more information about legal issues during emergencies, please reference ASTHO’s Legal Preparedness Series—a set of toolkits that address key information needs to help public health officials understand and utilize legal authorities to prepare for and respond to public health emergencies.