Voters in Jackson County and elsewhere could decide on a new way to pay for 911 service under legislation the Missouri General Assembly passed just as its regular session ended last week.
“It is great. It is absolutely great that that got through,” said state Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs, who has sponsored the legislation for the past six years. Five times, it died late in the session. This year – Lauer’s last in Jefferson City – it got through both houses of the General Assembly and is on the way to the desk of Gov. Eric Greitens. Lauer said Greitens has generally supported public-safety measures and, in any event, the bill has enough support to override a veto.
One thing that made the issue more pressing for legislators this year was the recent death of a Clinton, Mo., police officer who had been sent to the wrong house because of a mishandled emergency call.
“This is truly something that has an impact on our first responders,” Lauer said.
The vast majority of 911 calls are placed via cell phone, but Missouri up to now has been the only state not to tax cell phones to pay for that service. Instead, that entire financial load is borne by fees in landline bills. Advocates of change have argued that’s not equitable and that as landlines keep going away, it’s not a stable funding source.
This bill allows counties to go to the voters for approval of a monthly 911 fee for mobile devices. The cap is $1, but Lauer said the amounts needed would be far below that.
Before going to the voters, local authorities have to outline a plan to consolidate the number of facilities taking and routing 911 calls. Missouri’s 114 counties have 185 such facilities, and state legislators have wanted a reduction to be part of a 911 bill.
“The whole bill has always been about consolidation,” Lauer said.
This change has been a priority for Jackson County, and on Monday the one of the County Legislature’s lobbyists in Jefferson City told legislators that this is a victory. There is no timeline yet on when county officials might move forward or when the voters will see it on the ballot.