House Approves Barrar’s Bill Updating the State’s 911 Law
5/4/2015
HARRISBURG – The House approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Steve Barrar (R-Chester/Delaware) to update and enhance the Commonwealth’s 911 emergency communications law. The bill passed with bipartisan support.

Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, Barrar held many meetings regarding his plan to overhaul Pennsylvania’s 911 Emergency Telephone Act throughout two-and-a-half years. Six public hearings were held across the state and several stakeholder meetings before he presented House Bill 911 to the House.

House Bill 911 would prioritize the development of next-generation 911 technology. Citizens would be able to contact emergency responders via a host of new communication methods including texting, calls from video, non-human (e.g. OnStar) calls and calls from non-specific devices, such as an iPad.

“While we enjoy using new technology for fun in our free time, we must remember that it can also be used in our time of need,” Barrar said. “New technology not only provides additional access methods to emergency responders, but the opportunity to more thoroughly communicate with them. For example, an iPad could be used to take a picture of a burning house so the firefighters could be planning their attack before they even arrive on scene.”

For the first time in 25 years, House Bill 911 would allow for an updated 911 surcharge. The surcharge would enable the creation of new technology and alleviate the immense burden county 911 centers face as a result of increasing expenses of communications equipment and rising personnel costs.

“Before we had cell phones, a car wreck on the highway would generate one 911 call. Now, because everyone has a cell phone, that same accident may produce 30 calls or more. That staggering increase translates to a greater personnel need that cannot be ignored,” Barrar said.

In addition to the absence of an increased 911 surcharge since 1990, wireless phones, VOIP phones and prepaid communication devices were later added to the surcharge provisions for landline phones under the original law.

The surcharge, which would be uniform across all types of communication devices capable of contacting a 911 center, would be $1.65 per month. This would reflect a minimal 15-cent increase from the current maximum monthly surcharge allowed under state law.

“One of our most valuable services—the life-saving service provided by our emergency responders—is one that has been financially neglected. The surcharge will enable us to continue to dial 911 and know that an emergency responder will appear within minutes,” Barrar said.

The updated surcharge is expected to generate $326 million annually for the Commonwealth’s 911 systems. These funds will be distributed to the counties on a quarterly basis, which will allow the counties to more efficiently budget for 911 purposes.

The bill now advances to the Senate for consideration.

Representative Stephen E. Barrar
160th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Alison Evans
717.260.6206
aevans@pahousegop.com
SteveBarrar.com / Facebook.com/RepBarrar
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