Once again, push is on for 911 cell phone fee

cell-phoneA coalition of public safety organizations is once again lobbying the state to tax cell phones to provide 911 service to them.

Missouri is the only state that does not allow such taxes, even though about 75 percent of 911 calls now come from cell phones.

But in Missouri 911 coverage has to be paid for by such things as land line fees or sales taxes or general funds, said Jason White, a consultant with the Mid-American Regional Council and others lobbying for the change.

He reported Wednesday to the city council public safety committee.

In the last decade, all states except Missouri and Oklahoma have been able to expand 911 to handle cell phone calls, he said.

But in 17 Missouri counties you cannot make a 911 call from a cellphone. In 19 more, you can call but they have no way to locate you. A few counties have no 911 service of any kind.

Land line fees now pay for full cell 911 service in the Kansas City area, but White said that is unfair and unsustainable.

“Land lines are paying (here) but there are fewer and fewer land lines and not enough revenue for the future,” he said.

John Sharp, committee chairman noted that Kansas City has made changing the cell phone law one of its legislative priorities.

“Most people don’t realize that if they get in a wreck in one of these counties without a 911 locator system, they are just out of luck,” he said.

About 18 other groups, mostly public safety organizations, are also supporting changes proposed in a bill introduced by Rep. Jeanie Lauer, a Blue Springs Republican.

Many options are needed because Missouri counties have lapsed in to many ways of paying for 911 coverage because cell phone taxes were ruled out, White said, and Lauer’s bill offers options.

It also includes a 3 percent charge on all pre-paid cell phone charges, with money going into a state grant pool that allots money to counties.

The bill is HB 1573.

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