Rep. Gene Pelowski: Disaster Aid without the fuss
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Rep. Gene Pelowski: Disaster Aid without the fuss

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Gov. Mark Dayton has announced Disaster Aid for areas of Houston County as a result of the rain and flooding of Aug. 27-28. Gov. Dayton was able act quickly and announce this aid without the need for a special legislative session of the Minnesota Legislature. A special session of the Legislature was not needed because in 2014, significant updates were made to the way Minnesota responds with natural disaster aid. Known as Chapter 12B, these updates were championed by the DFL controlled Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Dayton.

I was the House sponsor of Chapter 12B, as I was the sponsor of Chapter 12A in 2008. Both of these pieces of legislation came out of the largest disaster in the history of the state, when southeastern Minnesota was hit by 15 inches of rain in one night in August of 2007. As a result of that disaster, and the special session that followed it, I worked with 13 state agencies, local units of government and the Office of Homeland Security to create a play book for the handling of future disasters in Minnesota when a disaster was declared by the President of the United States.

Understanding that Minnesota was facing natural disasters with increasing frequency and that a Presidential Disaster Declaration may not be granted with every disaster, I worked from a 2012 framework from the Legislative Auditor to create a new plan, known as Chapter 12B, to address disasters. In 2014, I sponsored Chapter 12B, which created a dedicated disaster fund established to allow the Governor, with the agreement of the House and Senate, to declare a state disaster and allocate resources from the dedicated disaster account when the Legislature was not in session. A special session of the Legislature would not have to be called and resources could almost immediately be sent to those areas in need.

There is nothing special about a special session. In the last 20 years Minnesota has had 16 special sessions, most the result of the Legislature’s inability to get its work done on time. Chapter 12B has freed areas hit by natural disasters of having to face a second disaster with a special session of the Minnesota Legislature.

Rep. Pelowski (DFL-Winona) chaired the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee in 1997-1998 and 2013-14, chaired the Government Operations, Election & Reform Committee 2007-2008 and served as Speaker Pro Tempore of the House.

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