The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 20, 2013

Oklahoma panel approves drought relief fund bill

From The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — Plans to establish an emergency drought-relief fund of at least $10 million were approved by a powerful Oklahoma House committee on Wednesday.

The measure, which is a combination of two previously separate plans, would allow the money to begin flowing to relevant state agencies as soon as the governor declares an emergency. The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Dale Dewitt, R-Braman, and cleared the House Appropriations and Budget Committee with no opposition or debate.

"It will be a revolving fund set up in the Treasury," Dewitt, who is also a farmer, told The Associated Press, meaning that the Legislature would need to continuously replenish the funding if it chooses.

That fund would be administered by the heads of Oklahoma's Conservation Commission, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources Board. The emergency drought commission would coordinate where the money goes with the governor and other state agencies as they fight fires, provide water to livestock and otherwise respond to a drought disaster.

Dewitt and fellow farmer, Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon, had both introduced drought relief-fund proposals this session with only minor differences.

"The general consensus is this is the bill we're going to move," Dewitt said.

The proposal comes as most of Oklahoma languishes under persistent and extreme drought conditions. Last summer brought one of the worst droughts of the century, and climatologists say it could continue through this spring.