New committee could give new voice to 911 funding issue, Rep. King says

06/20/2015 02:26 PM

With a new special House committee on technology in place, Rep. Martha Jane King will have an avenue to present legislation she’s championed recently on 911 funding for local governments.

King, chairwoman of the newly impaneled House Special Committee on Advanced Communications and Information Technology, said her bill to shore up funding for emergency 911 services. In her western district alone, the Lewisburg Democrat said Logan and Todd county fiscal courts subsidized their 911 programs by $750,000 last year.

HB 418, which would have raised the monthly 911 fee to $1 and base future increases on the Consumer Price Index, was sent to the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, where it never received a hearing.

King said she will again file legislation on the issue in next year’s 60-day session after some tweaking.

However, one major hurdle remains: Some lawmakers’ opposition to raising fees on the electorate. That resolution could be more pronounced in an election year.

After meeting with local government officials at a joint conference of associations for county judge-executives, magistrates and commissioners, King hopes city- and county-level politicos can apply some pressure on the General Assembly.

“Let’s just be honest: Any bill that you have that increases any fee by any amount is always going to be controversial,” King said. “Whether it’s an elected official at home, in Frankfort or in Washington, D.C., when you start talking about raising fees, people get concerned with that, so I think that is one of the biggest obstacles.”

As more and more people transition to cellular telephones and personal health and transportation services connect users to emergency dispatchers, King says the legislature should find some way to generate revenue for local 911 services similar to traditional methods.

Monthly surcharges on cellular and landline telephones of 70 cents plus local appropriations fund the program, with charges on cell phone services accounting for less than a quarter of overall revenue, according to a legislative analysis on King’s House Bill 418 this year.

That review also found prepaid cell phone providers pay far less than 70 cents per month for 911 on average, remitting about 38.5 cents per prepaid device monthly and costing local governments an estimated $42 million in lost revenue since 2006.

She hopes, in part, to rethink the 911 funding mechanism for prepaid carriers through her bill in the 2016 session.

“If you have a contract with AT&T or Verizon, you’re paying 70 cents a month,” King said. “If you go to Walmart or a big box store and you’re loading up minutes, you’re not paying 70 cents a month. We have three methodologies for the carrier to remit that fee to the state, and out of the three, one is a little bit cheaper for them so that’s the one they choose.

“We’re losing revenue because we’re not sure exactly how much money that they are paying. It can be from 28 cents a month to 38 cents a month, but it’s certainly not 70 cents, which is what your post-pay amount is. The bill that I had simply suggested that we level the playing field, that if you have a cell phone or you have anything that can reach 911, that everybody pay a flat fee.”

Watch King’s interview here:


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