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Committee Hears Recovery Ideas
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Two thousand and eleven will certainly go down as one of the most trying years in Missouri history. The tornado that occurred in Joplin on May 22nd killed more than one hundred and fifty Missourians and was the worst tornado recorded in the United States since 1950. Folks in and around Sedalia continue to work hard at putting their lifeís back together after the devastating May 25 tornado. Parts of southeast Missouri have been, and will continue to be, flooded for months. As a result, Missouri farmers and families have lost both their homes and their livelihoods. All the while a perfect storm of snow melt in the north along with record rainfall continues to threaten our state with projected flooding more damaging than even the historic floods of 1993.
Over the last couple weeks I have participated in public hearings conducted by the Interim Committee on Disaster Recovery. The first meetings of this committee was held in Sedalia and than we went to Joplin last week. Missouri House Speaker Steven appointed me as a member of this committee in the wake of flooding around the state and tornadoes that struck the St. Louis area, Sedalia and left a path of destruction in Joplin. The committee is to address the numerous issues that come along with the clean up after such devastation. Committee members will also look at both the short and long term recovery process and investigate how the state can assist in helping these regions clean up and move forward.
The hardships placed on Missouri families by Mother Nature are compounded by the challenges many Missourians face in trying to provide for their families during these trying economic times. Missouriís unemployment rate continues to hover around 9 percent. Almost one in ten Missouri residents are actively looking for a job and don't have one - the actual number of unemployed is much higher, as many people have simply given up.
At the hearing held in Joplin we heard from representatives from the Joplin school district, local government, local hospitals and ordinary citizens. We heard reports that in Joplin 7500 homes were damaged by the E-5 tornado with 4000 destroyed or left uninhabitable. Eight public schools were damaged including the destruction of the cities only high school. The school district estimates their losses at $150,000,000. Officials estimate that 1800 vehicles were destroyed, 500 businesses destroyed and 4500 jobs displaced. Just as important as these numbers, we heard from regular people who are struggling every day with their losses and are trying to restore to their ordinary lives. We heard ideas from these folks about how Missouri and local governments can better meet these challenges in the future
We heard testimony about how buildings can be constructed to better survive these terrible winds. On the other hand we were warned against making too many unnecessary regulations on houses, like mandatory basements, because if these requirements make houses too expensive to build or repair. Individuals testified that these types of regulations end up hurting rather than helping people. We heard a very sensible proposal from administrators of the only surviving hospital in Joplin which would allow physicians who are not currently licensed in Missouri to be permitted to temporarily practice their profession in our State when there is a disaster and a shortage of professionals. Some of these obstacles faced by individuals involved in the disaster recovery can be fixed by simply changing laws or regulations.
As part of my trip to Joplin, I toured the neighborhoods in that city. Besides the utter devastation in Joplin, I was most impressed with the response of volunteers from all across or State and nation. Literally, thousands of Good Samaritans have donate their time to the clean up and recovery efforts. The rebuilding after these disasters will be primarily accomplished by individuals.
We in the Missouri General Assembly can help in the effort to restore these lost jobs by continuing in our effort to reduce the burdensome regulations on job creators created by government. Our State government can help by providing some short term help to the victims. There is a role for government, but mostly government needs to remove the obstacles and allow individuals and charities to do their good work. Due to the magnitude of the Joplin tornado, the Speaker has asked for a report on the short term needs of the area detailing areas the legislature can assist by the end of July and if a Special Session should be convened. The committee will put together a comprehensive report by the end of the year.