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Legislature mulls cell phone fee for Missouri 9-1-1 centers

By Sara Forhetz, sforhetz@ky3.com
Published On: Mar 06 2014 06:20:44 PM CST
Updated On: Mar 06 2014 06:44:57 PM CST

The Legislature is considering a bill to authorize a voter-approved monthly fee in each county to pay for 9-1-1 systems.

OZARK, Mo. -

Emergency centers across Missouri struggle to find funding for 911 services.  The Show-Me State is the only one that does not have a fee attached to cellular telephones.  A proposed bill in the Legislature aims to change that.

In Christian County and in Greene County, 9-1-1 services are funded by sales taxes.  Taney County's 9-1-1 center is funded by a surcharge on land lines.  With more people doing away with land lines, funding has been tight.  

House Bill 1573 shows some momentum.  It would allow a fee to be charged of up to $1.50 per month, per device that can call out to 911, to help pay for services.

Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R - Blue Springs, is sponsoring the bill.  She says it's designed to let each county decide the best option for it to fund 9-1-1 -- whether a land line surcharge, a sales tax or this new proposed cell phone fee.

There are still some unanswered questions, like: "What does 'any device' mean?"  and "What if you have four cell phones in your household, but you're all on the same family plan; should every device be charged?"  Those issues are still being discussed by lawmakers.

"We're even having some debate about 'any device capable.'  Let’s talk about technology nowadays.  There was an example brought up, but it could possibly happen: what if one of these days you got your refrigerator and, say, it’s connected to the Internet and, say, it has an emergency button on it, so I can hit the button on it.  Do we charge a fee for your refrigerator, too?  So are we talking about every device that can possibly connect to 911.  We are trying to define it down," said Christian County 9-1-1 Director Rance Duffy.

"We depend on paramedics and police officers and firemen to arrive there during emergencies and, if we’re not able to fund their programs, then we’re putting ourselves at risk," said fee supporter Mandy Evans.

Supporters say this fee would be good, in their opinion, because it would mean almost the entire population paying for 9-1-1, instead of only those with a land line or sales tax in their county.

There are still 36 counties in Missouri where dispatchers can't find you when you dial 9-1-1 on a cell phone.

The new bill also has provisions to organize a board to improve 9-1-1 operations.

The bill is being debated in the House and Senate.  We'll keep you posted on its progress.