Legislation is being drafted for introduction to the Missouri House of Representatives this session that, if passed, will create an opportunity for a 911 tax on cellphones.
In the 2013 legislative session, Rep. Jeanie Lauer sponsored HB 653, a bill with the same funding goal, which failed. The session ended before the bill could be passed.
“We have a draft right now,” said Missouri 911 Directors Association President Lisa Schlottach. “It’s not an official prefiled bill,” she said Thursday on her way to meet with Lauer.
Lauer said the bill will be introduced near the beginning of the 2014 legislative session, which begins Jan. 8.
The legislation, Schlottach said, is similar to the 2013 bill. It gives counties power to put a vote to the people to establish a $1.50, at maximum, monthly fee on devices able to call 911.
This would eliminate the issue of dwindling revenue from the current tax in Taney County, a 10 percent tax on base cost for a telephone landline. Many other counties across the state have adopted sales tax, the most popular revenue stream for 911 in the state. Taney County attempted to secure a quarter-cent sales tax in November. The tax was voted down by a 15 percent margin.
If the $1.50 fee were instituted, a sales tax would no longer be available to Taney County under this bill. The 10 percent landline levy would be dissolved. Landlines would fall under the the umbrella of devices able to connect to 911.
“The ultimate goal is to bring everyone up to the level of service in that state that people expect to be provided,” Schlottach said.
Services across each county vary, drastically in some cases. Some counties in the state have systems in which calls are forwarded to a seven-digit phone number at the sheriff’s office with no caller information. Other counties have the most advanced systems.
Many counties are turning to consolidation in order to get quality 911 service at a reduced cost. Knox County, for example, is in the process of joining with Macon County’s enhanced 911 system.
The bill also has provisions to move the state toward a consolidation state-of-mind. Under the bill, class three counties cannot submit a proposal for the $1.50 fee without forming a plan for consolidation, have an agreement for consolidation or have an agreement with another county to consolidate services.
Looking further ahead, the bill outlines that medical dispatch would be mandatory by 2016.
“Emergency dispatch is where you have to have national certification where you can give premedical arrival instructions to the caller,” Schlottach said.
Prepaid phones will not be charged the $1.50 monthly rate simply because there is no monthly payment associated with the phones. However, a percentage of the total cost when purchasing prepaid service will go to the state. This fund, separate of the monthly fees collected from cellphone users, will go toward grants to bring 911 services in low-funded counties up to par, Schlottach said. These fees would also be collected by people passing through the state, she said.
The $1.50 fee would be collected and remitted the same as current 911 taxes are, through the Missouri Department of Revenue.
Schlottach said the money will be remitted to counties by the location of a wireless subscriber’s residence. In other words, the county in which a cellphone bill is sent is where the $1.50 tax will go.
A series of education events are scheduled tentatively through January to bring 911 personnel and residents up to speed on the latest legislation.
“We strategically placed those in areas that do not currently have enhanced 911,” Schlottach said.
All meetings are open to the public, according to the Missouri 911 Directors Association.
The nearest meetings will be at the following times and locations:
•7 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Sac-Osage Hospital in the conference room, at 700 Giesler Drive, Osceloa.
•7 p.m. Jan. 15 at Mercy Hospital in conference rooms one and two, at 1 Hospital Drive, Lebanon.