A bill giving counties, municipalities, emergency management coordinators and volunteer fire departments the ability to accept volunteer assistance from private citizens during man made or natural disasters was passed on April 3 by the Texas House of Representatives at the 83rd Legislative Session.
The bill, HB 487, was authored by Rep Cecil Bell Jr., R–Magnolia. It was inspired by the tri-county fires that tore through Montgomery, Waller and Grimes counties in 2011.
“In the past these volunteers would be turned away by the first responders because of the inherent liability they assume,” Bell said. “This bill would allow citizens to volunteer in those times when the first responders’ resources are taxed by granting them liability protection.”
The bill would also allow for increased flexibility by agencies to borrow equipment and resources from private citizens, Bell said.
Bell, a freshman legislator representing parts of Montgomery and Waller counties, said this is his first bill to pass the House. It was received by the Texas Senate on April 4 to be scheduled for its first reading. The Senate will either vote to amend, reject or approve the bill without amendments. If it is approved without amendments, it is sent back to the House, put into final form, and sent to the governor to be signed into law.
To reach the House, HB 487 was approved 9-0 by the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on March 7. Gary Vincent, chief of the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department, spoke in front of the committee on the importance of passing the bill.
“We have state and federal resources that will come to assist during emergency situations, but it takes time to get them here,” Vincent said. “[HB 487] provides the opportunity for local resources to assist the fire department before state or federal resources arrive without exposing the local resource owner to liability. I will continue to support the bill and Representative Bell’s efforts.”