Panel Okays Extra Disaster Aid For States With Tough Building Codes

NU Online News Service

WASHINGTON—A House panel has passed industry-supported legislation to provide increased post-catastrophe aid for states and municipalities that enact and enforce storm-proof building requirements.

Provisions of the bill with building code requirements designed to ensure that structures will survive a significant natural disaster were incorporated into H.R. 3377, the Disaster Response, Recovery and Mitigation Enhancement Act of 2009.

The omnibus measure is headed now for the House floor following unanimous passage Thursday by the committee. Its chief sponsors are Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the committee, and Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., ranking minority member.

Under the proposed legislation, 13 states would qualify for the additional post-disaster aid, while 10 additional states could qualify with minor legislative modifications. Another eight states have adopted statewide codes but lack enforcement authorization.

A number of industry trade groups lauded the decision of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to pass the bill.

These include the Building Code Coalition, the American Insurance Association, the Property-Casualty Insurers Association of America, and the Institute for Business & Home Safety.

“Strong building codes can save lives, reduce losses and save taxpayer money,” said John Prible, vice president of federal affairs for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, a member of the Building Code Coalition.

“Unfortunately, the standards for building, inspection and enforcement vary widely from state to state,” said Kathy Mitchell, federal affairs director for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and head of the BCC.
Leigh Ann Pusey, AIA president and chief executive officer, added, “Allowing for additional post-disaster funding is a key way for the federal government to incentivize states to abide by modern building codes.”

She said the bill not only promotes public safety but also prevents needless losses as a result of natural catastrophes.

David A. Sampson, PCI president and CEO, noted that a study conducted by the National Institute of Building Sciences in 2005 found that every dollar spent on mitigation at the federal level saves American taxpayers four dollars in disaster assistance.

“In short, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this preventive legislation is a wise investment that will save taxpayers money in the future,” he said.

Julie Rochman, president and CEO of the IBHS, said the reason the bill is important is that building codes are based on established scientific and engineering principles. “Codes are minimum standards, but are still critically important thresholds for life safety and property preservation,” she said.