Welcome to the Senate Republican Press Search.

View Article Details

Print

'If he vetoes the bill, 911 is dead.' A bill on Rauner's desk would increase fees to pay for 911; will he sign it?

Carbondale Southern Illinoisan

Friday, June 16, 2017  |  Article  |  Isaac Smith

911 (94) Phelps, Brandon--State House, 118

BENTON — In a passionate, and at times bleak, Letter to the Editor sent to The Southern and other newspapers throughout the state last week, the Illinois Sheriff’s Association made a case this month for SB1839, which local authorities say could mean the difference between having 911 dispatcher centers or not.

“It has to do with funding,” said Franklin County Sheriff Donnie Jones.

At the heart of the bill, which has passed both chambers of the state Legislature and awaits Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature, is an increase in surcharges on phone services that provide funding to 911 services in the state.

Greg Sullivan, executive director of the ISA, said this bill would increase these charges by about 62 cents, putting the charge to about $1.50 for most customers, and would equalize the amounts charged to landlines and cellphones.

Sullivan said the money collected from these charges are then distributed by a central governing body, a consolidation made in 2015. This can be the sum total of funding some area 911 dispatch centers receive, Sullivan said.

Though the bill had bipartisan support in the Senate and House, Rauner has expressed concern over signing the measure, which is expected to land on his desk soon.

“The governor is reviewing the bill but has serious concerns about raising fees on taxpayers across the state,” Eleni Demetzis, a spokeswoman for Rauner, said an emailed statement sent The Southern.

Vetoing the bill would not be a problem were it not for a sundown clause built into the 2015 911 legislation that raised surcharges and consolidated control of 911 services statewide. Sullivan said this sundown clause could end funding to 911 agencies June 30 if action is not taken.

“If he vetoes the bill, 911 is dead,” said Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, who was one of six sponsors for the bill in the House.

Sundown clauses are not uncommon. Sullivan said they are put in place in order to review their efficiency at a later date.

But, this particular clause would not allow for phone companies, such as AT&T and Verizon, to continue collecting the charges altogether, which Sullivan said could devastate 911 services.

This could leave counties on the hook for paying for services.

“It’d be just like a number of unfunded things that are happening today because we have no budget. We would have no budget for 911,” Sullivan said.

“If it’s not funded, we will be in dire straits,” Jones said, adding that Franklin County, like many others in Southern Illinois, would be hard pressed to find a way to make up that funding gap.

Time is essential, Jones said, when dealing with 911 emergency calls and if the services are effectively defunded, this could affect how efficient dispatchers would be.

Sullivan guessed that if this measure falls through, emergency calls could look something like this: He said the call would then be routed to a “seven-digit” phone number at a local dispatch center at a local police station or sheriff's office. He said this would could increase response times and would eliminate the professionally-trained emergency call handlers.

Sullivan said what makes 911 dispatch centers and their employees so valuable is their specialty equipment that provides increased call-location accuracy and call handlers that are able to walk callers through some tough emergency situations — he said this could mean everything from how to make a splint to how to deliver a baby.

“When you hear some of the stories that some of these people go through, I don’t know how you would do it without that kind of equipment, that kind of backup that you have with the extra dispatchers,” Sullivan said.

Unsure what the future holds and hesitant to read the crystal ball, Jones said Franklin County would try to make the best of a bad situation if they find themselves with an unfunded 911 program.

“We’d certainly do the best we could,” he said.