The latest effort in a House lawmaker’s years-long quest to address 911 funding in Missouri has been sent to the state senate.
Representative Jeanie Lauer has been working for six years on a statewide way to fund 911 services. That’s because some counties in Missouri don’t have it, and many that have it don’t have the latest technology that can locate cell phones or accept emergency text and video messages. As fewer and fewer people use landlines – charges on which are one of the primary ways 911 services are paid for – counties are having more and more trouble paying for even outdated 911 service.
Lauer said the issue has long been personal for her. Each year she has heard more and more stories of people who have needed emergency help and didn’t get it in time because they were in an area with poor or no 911 service.
“It is not just a bill. This truly is something that is dealing with people’s life and their wellness, and at the end of every session it truly hits me emotionally to not have it accomplished like we would like to because I know until the next session we’re still going to lose people through death because of this situation,” said Lauer.
The issue has been around for more than a decade, predating Lauer’s legislative career. At its core is that cell phone use continues to increase but Missouri remains the only state that does not collect a fee on cell phone usage to pay for 911. Previous efforts to institute a charge on cell phones met with resistance, but Lauer thinks she has finally arrived at the solution.
House Bill 1456 would allow counties and certain municipalities in Missouri to seek voter approval for a fee of up to $1.00 on any device that can contact 911. That fee could go up to $1.50 per device with special justification and approval from the state 911 service board. Areas adopting this new funding source would replace their current 911 funding source; they could not keep both.
The bill would create a 3-percent charge on the purchase of prepaid phones, to go toward 911 funding. A portion of that money would go to 911 service in the county the phone was bought in; the rest would go to a statewide fund to support and improve 911.
The bill would also address the need for 911 facilities in many parts of the state to consolidate. Lauer said in Missouri’s 114 counties there are 185 Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAPs.
“That is ridiculous. These facilities are so small they’re not providing the level of service, they’re usurping moneys that the areas don’t have to fund it, so it’s inefficient, it’s ineffective, and we’re not getting the response times to people that we need,” said Lauer. “It’s doing a disservice to our citizenry because constitutionally we are required to keep our people safe, and we’re not.”
Under the bill, where consolidation is needed, voters could not be asked to approve a new funding stream without a plan for consolidation. Lauer says some locations are ready to consolidate but need the bill to be passed to make it possible.
In recent years the House has approved legislation similar to HB 1456 but like so much legislation, it stalled out in the Senate. Lauer is cautiously optimistic for better results this year.
“The difference this year may be that we have been able to run the Senate version of the bill through the Senate committee, and that was actually voted out by a vote of 9-1,” said Lauer. “Then we come to the same point of getting on the floor in the Senate.”
HB 1456 was sent to the Senate on a vote of 111-31.