News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, JULY 11, 2005


Legislature should examine state’s emergency powers

Hurricane Dennis came 10 months after Hurricane Ivan devastated parts of Alabama, and state officials are drawing on their Ivan experiences in dealing with Dennis.

With two hurricanes fresh in memory and a special session of the Legislature starting July 19, it is time to look again at some bills that died in the recent regular session of the Legislature.

Among other things, these measures would:

  • Give the governor clear authority to declare an emergency when a disaster is imminent — such as when a hurricane is in the Gulf of Mexico and headed this way — rather than waiting until it arrives. Gov. Bob Riley assumed this authority out of necessity when Ivan and Dennis were approaching. We have not heard anyone suggest that he abused it. Most Alabamians will applaud his decisive actions, such as making Interstate 65 one-way northbound in South Alabama.
  • Protect certain engineers, architects, surveyors and contractors from lawsuits while they volunteer for service as "Good Samaritans" during an emergency.
  • Create the crime of home repair fraud, a misdemeanor that could become a felony with repeat offenses.
  • Make felony charges possible for price-gouging, which is now a misdemeanor during a state of emergency.
  • Update laws detailing what city and county governments can do during emergencies — expanding their authority to set curfews and close public buildings such as courthouses, while extending deadlines for document filings delayed by courthouse closings.

    Gov. Riley said he probably will include emergency management reform bills in the special session, the Mobile Register reported. He was not specific about what he wants.

    Experts say we have entered a period, possibly decades long, when bad hurricanes will be more frequent. 2005 may give us more of them, as 2004 did to Florida.

    We must consider equipping government better — not by making a rush to legislate, but by taking a balanced look at recent experiences and the likely consequences of the proposed laws.

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