The Maryland House of Delegates on Saturday overwhelmingly passed HB 397, 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. Earlier this month the Senate approved an identical Senate bill, SB 339.
The House bill will need a pro forma vote in the Senate, and the Senate bill will need the same in the House. After that, the bills will be sent to the Governor for his signature.
SB 339/HB 397 was introduced at the request of the Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Cheryl Kagan (Commission Chair), Senator Ed Reilly (Commissioner), Delegate Susan Krebs (Commissioner), and Delegate Michael Jackson (Commissioner), 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.
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.