Senate fails to act on E911 bill
National Emergency Number Association President Bill McMurray last month sent an urgent letter to the co-chairs of the Congressional E-911 Caucus — Sens. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.) — urging them to twist their colleagues’ arms in order to pass legislation before the election break that would provide funding for public-safety answering point, or PSAP, upgrades.
The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Burns and Clinton, was introduced in June 2003 and made it through the Senate Commerce Committee the next month. The House version was introduced in November 2003. It had been anticipated that the Senate version would make it to the floor for a vote in January, but the bill continues to languish.
The House and Senate versions are similar. Each would authorize federal funding for PSAPs upgrading to comply with the FCC’s Phase II mandate, which requires PSAPs and wireless carriers to identify the location of wireless 911 callers and establish a national center to coordinate Phase II deployments and upgrades. The bills also would punish states that divert E911 funds collected via wireless service surcharges to other uses by denying them the federal grants.
However, the two bills are far apart on the funding level. The House version calls for $100 million annually, while the Senate version stipulates $500 million. A compromise was reached in June of this year that would set the funding level at $250 million — not enough to get the job done, but a good start, according to NENA executives.
Steve Seitz, NENA’s government affairs director, had expressed hope that the Senate would take long-awaited action before the break. “[Senate Majority Leader Bill] Frist [R-Tenn.] wants to get this done, and I think [the Senate] wants to get this done before they leave for the election recess,” Seitz said.
The bill almost came to a vote early last month, according to Jennifer O’Shea, Burns’ press secretary.
“We were actually very close,” O’Shea said in the final hours before the recess. “Sen. Burns is not close to giving up. He’s still working hard on this.”
Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) blocked the bill, according to Washington sources, who said Sununu believes the $250 million in annual funds is still too high. There might be another reason, said Washington insider Rudy Baca, wireless strategist with Precursor.
“It may not get done because it’s become part of a much larger issue having to do with the 800 MHz rebanding and setting a hard date for broadcasters to move off the 700 MHz band,” Baca said. “I think Sununu is trying to view all of these holistically, and that’s the problem.”
Such a philosophy gets in the way of passing an important piece of legislation for which a Senate/House compromise already is in place, according to Baca. He said Sununu should heed some advice that one of Baca’s former bosses — former FCC Chairman James Quello, who is the longest-tenured commission in history with more than 24 years of service — once gave him.
“He used to always tell me never to let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Baca said. “He used to always say that the best decision is the one that’s made. And I think Sununu wants the perfect.”
Calls to Sununu’s press secretary were not returned as of press time.