AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas lawmakers have spent hours discussing legislation aimed at addressing the failures of the state’s power grid, infrastructure and lack of reliable emergency communications during February’s deadly winter storm. Advocates and Texas families are urging legislators to address these issues, with less than 30 days remaining in the legislative session.
“The clock is ticking, and with just a few short days left, the Texas legislature really needs to get some of these bills — including this one that would establish an ALERT system — over the finish line,” said Tim Morstad, the state associate director at AARP Texas.
His team has advocated, in particular, for the creation of a statewide alert system to be used when disasters or power outages threaten to strike.
“Those older Texans who are at home — trying to figure out what’s going on in an emergency like this — truly, it could have been a matter of life or death. If we had a little more notice, if we had a better system in place to share information,” he said.
House Bill 12, which would commission a study on this type of alert system, moved from the House over to the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence.
Michele Richmond, Executive Director for the Texas Competitive Power Advocates, told lawmakers the system needed to use, “Very clear terms that everyone can understand, not using acronyms.”
Meanwhile, Adam Haynes with the Conference of Urban Counties raised the point that other proposals offer funding to cities to implement legislation like this, but no funding would be provided to county governments, with the bill written as-is.
“So, if we are called to implement this program, it will be a cost to taxpayers,” he said.
He explained they support the intention of the bill, but wanted to work with the writers on adjustments to make it more feasible for counties to participate and execute the study.
Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa asked why they didn’t utilize the existing technology and system the state uses for Amber and Silver Alerts. Experts pointed the committee to several other bills that would make this possible.
For instance, lawmakers on the House State Affairs Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 3 on Friday.
This piece of legislation provides for a Power Outage Alert System, but also mandates power plants and generators to “winterize” their equipment and better prepare their infrastructure for future winter storms.
“It seems like the least that could be done,” said Elyse Yates of the weatherization requirements.
Yates told lawmakers that her aunt died of hypothermia in her north Austin assisted living facility, after they went nearly five days without power.
“The facility was understaffed. The backup generation failed, and they didn’t tell us about it. She died alone, and she froze to death,” Yates said. “The fact that it could happen in Texas in 2021 — that my aunt could freeze to death — is hard.”
Senate Bill 3 was left pending in committee, but Morstad said he and other experts at AARP guessed it was the storm-related bill with the highest chance of advancing and becoming law.
“We really implore the Texas legislature to step up and get these systems in place,” Morstad said.