The Senate Finance Committee today gave preliminary approval to MACo’s Next Generation 9-1-1 Initiative.
SB 339, Public Safety – 9-1-1 Emergency Telephone System (Carl Henn’s Law), a 2019 MACo Legislative Initiative to update state laws and the 9-1-1 financing system to provide the flexibility and resources needed for the deployment of a statewide Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) system, has gotten its first stamp of approval. The Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to pass the bill, and send that report to the floor of the Senate for a full vote.
On Tuesday, the committee room was filled with local elected officials, 9-1-1 Specialists, Emergency Managers, 9-1-1 Directors, Police, Fire, EMS, and technical experts, all of whom expressed strong support for the bill, sponsored by Senator Cheryl Kagan (Commission Chair) and Senator Ed Reilly at the request of the Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland. The legislation includes many of the Commission’s 23 unanimous recommendations.
Maryland’s 9-1-1 system has performed admirably for decades. However, new data-rich communications devices and services are driving the existing 9-1-1 infrastructure toward its operational limits. The vision of an NG911 system is to enable the public to make voice, text, or video calls from any communications device via Internet Protocol-based networks. These capabilities can make public safety both more effective and more responsive.
Maryland residents demand and expect 9-1-1 emergency service to be reliable and efficient. Next-generation technology is required to keep up with this increasingly complex public safety function – improving wireless caller location, accommodating incoming text/video, and managing crisis-driven call overflows. Maryland must accelerate its move toward Next Generation 9-1-1, deliver these essential services equitably across the state, and assure effective coordination with communications providers.
The transition to NG911 cannot be achieved without significant funding to upgrade our existing 9-1-1 equipment and communications systems, which are already under-funded through existing user fees. According to The Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland, the State’s 9-1-1 fee structure is grossly insufficient to support the current 9-1-1 system, let alone the deployment of NG911.
In fact, local 9-1-1 fees cover just 37% of statewide operational costs, with counties relying increasingly on general revenues to supplement 9-1-1 funding. SB 339 would conform Maryland’s fee structure to that of every other state and would provide an additional revenue source to offset 9-1-1 operational costs for the transition to NG911.
An identical House Bill, HB 397, sponsored by Delegate Susan Krebs and Delegate Michael Jackson, was heard on Tuesday in the House Health and Government Operations Committee. The bill is expected to be considered by the Government Operations and Estates and Trusts Subcommittee.
The Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland, a 2018 MACo Legislative Initiative, submitted its 2018 report to the Governor and General Assembly in December of last year. The report includes recommendations for the implementation, technology, funding, governance, and ongoing statewide development of Next Generation 9-1-1.