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Final legislative approval given to Oklahoma disaster relief bill

The Oklahoma House of Representatives votes 95-0 to pass a measure that would tap $45 million from the state's savings account to help reimburse state agencies and local governments for expenses caused by this week's tornadoes and other disasters.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: May 23, 2013 at 12:07 pm •  Published: May 23, 2013

The Oklahoma House of Representatives gave final legislative approval to a bill that would withdraw $45 million from the state's Rainy Day Fund to help reimburse state agencies, local communities and counties for expenses caused by this week's tornadoes and other disasters.

Senate Bill 249 now goes to Gov. Mary Fallin for her approval. She is expected to sign it.

House members spent 15 minutes asking questions about how the money would be spent before voting 95-0 to pass the measure. There was no debate.

The Senate on Wednesday voted 45-0 to pass SB 249.

Withdrawing funds from the Rainy Day Fund required two-thirds support, or 68 votes, because the governor had already declared a state of emergency. Had that declaration not been made, the measure would have needed three-fourths support.

A clause to make SB 249 take effect as soon as the governor signs it also passed 95-0.

“We need it,” said Rep. Mark McBride, a Republican from Moore, which was hit by Monday's tornado.

McBride said private donors have already pledged $70 million to the Moore area to help with recovery costs.

When discussion veered off about whether the state should donate land to place debris from the monster tornado that struck Moore, McBride said the city of Moore has designated land available for debris to be dumped.

The Rainy Day Fund has about $577 million. State law allows up to 25 percent, or about $144 million, be used to pay for emergency expenses. The rest of the money is reserved for budget shortfalls and revenue failures.

About $25 million of the $45 million would be used for matching money for local communities. The rest would be available to reimburse state agencies that were called in to assist with this week's tornadoes that also struck Carney, the Shawnee area, Newcastle, Prague, Edmond and south Oklahoma City.

The federal government issued a federal disaster this week for Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie counties. Disaster assistance benefits are available for individuals and business owners affected by the severe storms.

When a presidential disaster declaration is issued, the federal government pays 75 percent of the reimbursement costs to counties, municipalities, rural electric cooperatives, rural water districts and other entities for infrastructure damage. The federal government's reimbursement rate is 85 percent for expenses submitted within 30 days of a disaster and 80 percent for expenses submitted within 60 days, McBride said.

When the federal government pays 75 percent, the local entities pay 12.5 percent, and the state is required to pay the remaining 12.5 percent, with that money to come out of a state emergency fund.


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