Congress passed a port-security bill during the weekend, but the legislation did not include several 911-related amendments that now may be difficult to enact during this congressional session.

In mid-September, the Senate Commerce Committee passed a version of the Safe Port Act that included language that would have ensured voice-over-IP (VoIP) providers access to 911 system infrastructure necessary to offer E-911 services and would have extended 911 liability protections to VoIP 911 calls.

But House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton objected to the 911 amendments, noting that the VoIP 911 issues were addressed his committee’s telecom-reform legislation, according to Beltway sources.

“Essentially, it was of those things where he said, ‘That’s an Energy and Commerce (Committee) issue, and … we’re not going to let it get attached to a Homeland Security bill—it’s our jurisdiction,’” said Patrick Halley, government affairs director for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).
Recessed so members can run re-election campaigns, Congress is expected to reconvene in mid-November. In a lame-duck session that likely will last about three weeks, elected officials need to pass several budget items in addition to any telecom-reform.

“It seems like a hard task, but my feeling is that, if they want to get it done, they can get it done,” Halley said.

Attaching 911 language to an appropriations bill is possible, but the same jurisdictional arguments that foiled the port-security effort would apply to budget legislation, Halley said. A standalone 911 bill has been stalled for months in the Senate.

The most logical place to address 911 issues is in a comprehensive telecom-reform package, but there increasingly are doubts whether Congress can agree on such legislation before the end of the year—particularly if the elections change the majority party in the House or the Senate. Even if Republicans maintain control of both, the fact that Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was unable to secure the 60 votes necessary to block a filibuster effort on the Senate telecom-reform bill indicates the precarious nature of the legislation.

“The most likely way to have [911 language enacted] is through telecom reform, but that require votes that aren’t there right now,” Halley said.