House speaker creates House Interim Committee of Disaster Recovery in Joplin tornado wake

The committee will report on long-term recovery to the General Assembly on Dec. 31.

When a tornado began tearing through Joplin, Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, was with his family eating at a local IHOP. He saw debris flying in the air and heard the sirens.

“We got everyone into the shelter and then the tornado hit,” said White, vice chairman of the newly created House Interim Committee of Disaster Recovery. “The windows blew in and some of the interiors walls fell -- it was the worst feeling in the world, and we are lucky to be alive. This is a once-in-a-decade disaster.”

House Speaker Steven Tilley announced the creation of the committee June 7 in response to the devastation of the tornado, as well as the damage of flooding in southeast and northwest Missouri and the tornado that hit St. Louis in late April.

The mission of the committee is to assess whether a special legislative session is necessary to address the needs of Joplin and communities in southeast Missouri and to report its findings to Speaker Tilley by July 31, according to a House news release. The committee will also report to the General Assembly by Dec. 31 to describe long-term recovery strategies and how the state can be better prepared for natural disasters.

Monetary issues will be at the forefront of the problems scrutinized, White said.

More than 8,000 homes and apartments and 500 commercial properties were damaged or destroyed in the Joplin tornado. The Missouri Farm Bureau reported more than 500,000 acres of flooded cropland, costing Missouri farmers anywhere from $150 million to $400 million. The St. Louis tornado, the most powerful twister in metropolitan St. Louis since 1967, damaged about 750 homes.

“We want to make sure our constituencies do not get burdened with expenses,” White said. “A goal of the committee is to look at the disasters and see what we need to do about monetary concerns, property and sales taxes and unemployment.”

The committee plans to hold public hearings starting later this month.

“We need to hear from counties and local governments,” White said. “The guys who ran the disasters were local. We need to hear what they did and see if we can do anything to make the process easier.”

Committee member Rep. Thomas Flanigan, R-Carthage, said that over the summer, the committee will digest a lot of information and craft the reports. Once Tilley receives the initial report, the decision will be made whether or not to hold a special session.

“If a special session is called ... it could last for a maximum of 30 calendar days, and its scope would be limited to those matters mentioned in the petition,” MU political science professor Marvin Overby said.

Gov. Jay Nixon told PoliticMO that he did not anticipate the need for a special session; however, legislation would likely be needed to help Joplin recover, especially regarding the damaged property tax base.

“It has been a tough year for the state of Missouri,” Flanigan said. “We have so many immediate and long term needs, it is hard to say what is at the top of our list. However our priority is to take care of our people.”

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