PROVIDENCE — Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, has introduced legislation to create a restricted receipt account for funds collected by telephone service providers to maintain and upgrade Rhode Island’s 911 emergency system.
“Since the 2016 legislative session, I have been introducing this bill with the goal of keeping 911 fees where they belong and properly funding our 911 services throughout the state,” said Algiere, who introduced the bill on Tuesday. “This bill would require all 911 funds collected to be used solely for the operation of the 911 system.”
To address concerns regarding overfunding, Algiere said the bill would empower the Public Utilities Commission to reduce the fees should the amount collected exceed the amount needed to fund 911 services. The current fees are $1 per month for both landline and cellphone phone customers, plus an additonal 26 cents for cellphone geolocation services.
Algiere’s proposal came a day after Michael O’Reilly, a Democratic appointee to the Federal Communications Commission, attended a so-called summit meeting of fire officials and other first responders in Cranston that was set up by Rep. Robert B. Lancia, R-Cranston, to pressure the Raimondo administration and the General Assembly to address the issue.
O’Reilly said the FCC was obligated by law to “call out states that are effectively stealing funds frm public safety to be used for other purposes,” an FCC exercise he called name and shame.
Algiere, a volunteer firefighter, said he introduced the measure to ensure that the 911 fees the state collects are used to keep emergency services funded so they can run at optimum levels using the best available technology. Under Rhode Island law, the money now can be diverted to the general fund, Algiere said.
O’Reilly said the state has diverted more than $8 million, or 60 percent, of the 911 fees it collected, and was second only to New Jersey in its re-appropriation of the money. He said that other states have also diverted the money, with the result that it was “hightly likely” that they were not investing in next generation 911 systems.
Rhode Island has had recent problems with the system, which went down for an hour in April 2017. The system is headquartered at State Police headquarters in Scituate.
Gov. Gina Raimondo said this week that her administration would support legislation creating a restricted account for 911 fees. But her office also noted that response times in Rhode Island were faster than the national standards recommended by the National Emergency Numbers Association, and that 95 percent of calls were answered in 10 seconds or less.
Algiere said, “My proposal creates a ‘911 account’ to ensure that 911 fees are in fact used to fund our 911 system. 911 is a critical service that Rhode Islanders need to rely and depend upon.”
The bill, 2018-S 2197, is now before the Senate Finance Committee for consideration. No date has been set for a hearing.