Pair of 9-1-1 Bills Continue to Gain Support in Congress
Monday, August 19, 2019 | Comments

Support for a pair of 9-1-1-related bills is growing in Congress, an Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International official said during APCO’s annual conference in Baltimore last week.

The 9-1-1 SAVES Act would direct the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to reclassify emergency telecommunicators from clerical workers to protective services occupations in its standard occupational classification (SOC) catalog. Reclassification of telecommunicators has been a major priority of both APCO and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) since OMB declined to reclassify telecommunicators in 2017.

“It basically just tells the Office of Management and Budget to correct its mistake,” said Jeff Cohen, chief counsel and director of governmental relations at APCO.

Meanwhile, the Next Generation 9-1-1 Act of 2019 would authorize $12 billion in funding to help in the transition to next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1). To be eligible for that funding, states would have to show that they are not diverting any 9-1-1 fees to other uses and would have to use the initial funding they received to set up a sustainable grant fund.

Other goals of the bill would be to establish strong definitions of NG 9-1-1 and key elements, such as interoperability, said Cohen.

Right now, as agencies begin moving toward NG 9-1-1, they are deploying systems that are not necessarily interoperable with other users’ systems, Cohen said. Under the bill, grant applicants would have to certify that they meet a specific definition of interoperability laid out in the legislation.

Bipartisan support is growing for both of the pieces of legislation. The 9-1-1 SAVES Act has 104 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 23 co-sponsors in the Senate, Cohen said.

The bill was also included as an amendment in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 (NDAA), which has passed that chamber. However, its future is not certain in the Senate because the version of the NDAA the Senate passed does not include those amendments, so the bills must be reconciled.

Regardless of the success of the NDAA amendment, APCO is working to develop support to pass a stand-alone bill through Congress, Cohen said. For the NG 9-1-1 Act, one of the challenges is determining where the $12 billion in funding will come from, Cohen said.

In addition to a stand-alone bill, the same NG 9-1-1 provisions are included in a wide-ranging infrastructure bill introduced by Democrats in the House earlier this year. Inclusion in that package would be one mechanism for getting the funding, and APCO is also pursuing other options for where that funding could come from, Cohen said. He did not elaborate on what those other options might be.

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