Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Chair Geanie W. Morrison, and members of the Texas House were in Rockport Thursday, July 11 for a joint press conference regarding the House’s efforts that led to the passage of significant Hurricane Harvey recovery and disaster preparedness legislation in the 86th Legislature.
“In the months since Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Rockport, local and state officials have worked together to develop a plan that puts victims on a path toward full recovery and ensures the State of Texas is more prepared to respond to any future disasters that come our way,” said Bonnen. “With Chair Morrison leading on this issue, there was never any doubt we would get it done. I am extremely proud of each one of my colleagues who worked with our counterparts in the Senate to get these disaster relief and recovery bills passed into law. Working together, we can and will rebuild, and we will do so in a way that makes Texas stronger and more resilient for the future.”
The speaker also said, “Harvey was a flooding event in Houston, but a hurricane in Rockport.
“We wanted to highlight your communities (holding this press conference in Rockport) and let you know we still know you’re in full recovery.”
Bonnen noted he put Morrison in charge of all things Harvey related on the House side.
“She is an excellent leader, not only for you, but for the entire state,
said Bonnen. “Harvey hit us everywhere.”
He praised local officials for their leadership after the storm, adding, “The hardest job (for an elected official) is after a natural disaster hits.”
Joined by Aransas, Refugio and Victoria county officials, Bonnen, Morrison, and their colleagues spoke about the significance of the House-led legislation that dedicates more thn $2 billion for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, improves emergency management operations, and expedites response time at the state and local levels.
The press conference was held in the new Aransas County Navigation District (ACND) building, in front of a capacity crowd, nearly two years after Hurricane Harvey made a direct hit on Rockport. It was under construction when the storm hit, and was one of the first public buildings to be used in its aftermath.
“I’m overwhelmed at the turnout today,” said Morrison. “We’ve done a lot, but there’s still so much to do, for a long time.
“It’s fitting we return here where Harvey made a direct hit,” noting Aransas and Refugio counties were directly in the path of the storm.
Morrison passed a monumental series of bills that will transform emergency management operations in Texas. With the passage of HB 6, 7, 2305 and 2794, Texas will see improved emergency response training for local officials, streamlined emergency management, and the unification of the emergency management system.
Furthermore, she was able to amend HB 2300 on to SB 6, creating the first Disaster Recovery Loan Program in Texas to help local communities fund much needed recovery efforts like those discussed at the press conference.
“Thanks to the leadership of Speaker Bonnen and the dedication of my colleagues, local officials and residents of District 30, we took great steps this session to ensure we took the lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey and used them to strengthen the states ability to prepare and respond to future disasters,” said Morrison. “It is fitting that we returned here to Rockport today, where this community experienced a direct hit from Harvey and demonstrated to the world what Texas resiliency is all about.”
State representatives Todd Hunter, Armando Walle, Dennis Paul, and Alex Dominguez spoke briefly at the press conference.
Each one talked about some of the legislation they either sponsored or supported regarding Harvey relief or planning for future disasters.
Walle recalled an emotional Fulton Mayor Jimmy Kendrick testifying in Austin during the recent Legislative session.
“Those weren’t crocodile tears, they were real,” he said.
Walle also recognized laws approved are a sign of hope, and don’t fix immediate needs.
Hunter noted it was a big event having the speaker in town.
“He’s here because of the pit bull (Morrison),” joked Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills.
Dominguez said he was a county commissioner in Cameron County when Harvey made landfall.
“We prayed a lot and lit a lot of candles,” he said. “It worked too well.”
He said bills he sponsored addressed issues such as communication, which was a problem in the wake of the storm.
“It wasn’t that everyone didn’t want to communicate (it was because they couldn’t communicate),” said Dominguez.
Morrison thanked local officials for going to Austin after Harvey and sharing what worked and didn’t work, so that legislation could be passed to address those issues.
One question asked at the end was if the state is totally prepared for future disasters.
Bonnen responded, “We are better prepared than we were in the past, but to say we’re totally ready we’d have to say we’re greater than God Almighty.”
He did note laws passed this past session, included bills regarding recovery, but even more of a focus on “how do we make sure we’re not so harmed.”
ACND Harbor Master Keith Barrett led Bonnen, Morrison and other House members on a tour around Rockport Harbor following the press conference to witness firsthand the recovery success stories and ongoing efforts to rebuild.