Senate approves changes for phone charges to pay for 911 service

TOPEKA — The Senate passed legislation today that would change the fees imposed on all phones and devices that can call for 911 emergency services, to pay for that service.

Senate Bill 50 would level fees which under current law are different for wireless and wireline services.

A 50 cent a month fee would be imposed by the new legislation on all phones and devices capable of contacting 911. Now, wireline phones pay 75 cents and wireless devices are charged a quarter.

Money collected monthly by phone companies and wireless providers would be remitted to the local administrator of 911 services.

The bill would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2012 if it becomes law. It will now go to the House.

A fee on prepaid wireless service would remain at 1 percent of the retail transaction.

The bill allows the Department of Revenue to retain as much as $70,000 of the revenue generated from prepaid wireless purchases in 2012 to pay for one-time costs of establishing the system by which wireless fees are collected.

The cost of 911 services, called Public Service Answering Points, vary based on the population of a county. The percentage of the revenue directed to each county would vary in accordance to need.

Every county would receive a minimum of $50,000, which is a significant increase for some of the least populous counties in the state.

Sedgwick County would receive about $2.7 million annually to provide 911 services, based on 2009 numbers of cell phones and landlines.

The county would get about $107,605 less than previously projected under the current system, but senators from Wichita said they are comfortable with the legislation.

Sen. Mike Petersen, R-Wichita, said that the projections were based on statistics that have changed dramatically. He said more people have cell phones and other devices that can call 911 than in 2009, which would increase revenues in Sedgwick County.

Petersen said he consulted with the director of 911 services in Sedgwick County, who was in favor of the bill.

Sedgwick County, and any other county that experienced a deficit in funds to pay for the service, could apply for grant money collected by the state, in addition to a 911 Federal Grant Fund.

–Todd Fertig, Eagle Topeka Bureau