By Tommy Reynolds
Occasionally, the legislature meets for the sole purpose of helping people in need. That’s exactly what we did on May 8, when we convened in special session at the State Capitol in response to the devastation caused by some 23 tornadoes that tore through our state on April 28.
My colleagues and I were intent on making sure that the people in the 12 counties designated by the President as disaster areas were provided with all the help we could muster. While federal dollars cover up to 75 percent of damages during emergency declarations, state and local governments are responsible to cover the remaining 25 percent, or 12.5 percent each. The state’s part of the bill amounted to $17 million.
We are most fortunate that we have been able to rebuild some of the funds that were depleted during the recent Great Recession. The decision was made to transfer the $17 million from a dedicated fund which had excess money to the Disaster Assistance Fund so that MEMA could access monies for our match.
The Senate wrote the measure into Senate Bill 2001, passed it out unanimously, and sent it over to the House where it was fast-tracked to the floor. After some discussion about the appropriation source, the measure passed 116 – 0.
We were joined at the capitol by elected officials from the stricken areas who were on hand to see their needs addressed by their legislators. I was personally glad to meet with the Mayor of Tupelo and several members of Tupelo City Counsel.
A number of legislators were also directly affected by the storms. My House colleague Michael Evans was on the team that rescued a little, four year-old girl from the ruins of her day care in Louisville. She was in the arms of her day care provider, Ms. Ruth Bennett, who died in the storm. Senator Giles introduced Senate resolutions honoring those who lost so much that day, and he also offered a resolution honoring the memory of Ms. Bennett.
I made the motion to adjourn in honor of Matt Laubhan, the courageous meteorologist of WTVA, who was on live TV as the E-4 tornado bore down on Tupelo and ordered his crew to the basement. Laubhan’s decisive leadership was exemplary, and, in the worst case scenario, would have saved lives. My motion was unanimously approved.
Legislators were at the capitol a little over three hours that day, and during that small span of time, I believe we were able to make a big difference in the recovery efforts of the affected areas. Those of us who witnessed the aftermath of the Water Valley 1984 tornado have no doubt that it will take years of effort and the generosity of both the federal and state governments before these communities can adequately recover. I am proud to have helped by supporting the tornado relief effort.
Please feel free to contact me at 1720 N. Main St., Water Valley, MS 38965 , by email at email@example.com or by phone at (662) 473-2571. I look forward to hearing from you on any issue that you may have.