Kari’s Law passes U.S. Senate, awaits House vote before being sent to President’s desk
U.S. senators this week again approved a House-initiated version of “Kari’s Law”—legislation that would require direct dialing for 911 calls made on multi-line telephone systems (MLTS) frequently used by hotels, offices and other enterprises—by unanimous consent.
Although the Senate passed H.R. 582—a Kari’s Law bill sponsored by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) that passed the House unanimously more than a year ago—on Monday, that version included an amendment regarding the legislation’s effective date that was introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). With the change from Klobuchar—sponsor of an accompanying bill in the Senate that passed unanimously last year—the amendment must be approved by the House before it can be moved to the desk of President Donald Trump.
Multiple sources today indicated that the amendment is on the House calendar, but several factors in the House—from filibuster-like action today by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R-Calif.) to a budget item that needs to be passed to prevent a government shutdown—make it difficult to determine when a vote on Kari’s Law vote would occur.
When the House vote is taken, Kari’s Law is expected to pass easily and be sent to President Trump’s desk. To date, Kari’s Law proposals in the House and Senate have been approved without a vote in opposition.
The legislation would mandate that 911 callers be able to dial the emergency number directly, instead of having to include an additional number or code. On some MLTS, callers must dial an additional number—often “9”—to get an outside line to make a normal phone call, so a 911 call would require the caller to dial “9-911.”
The namesake of the bill is Kari Hunt, whose estranged husband murdered her in a Texas hotel room in December 2013. While the murder took place, Hunt’s 9-year-old daughter tried calling 911 four times. Because the youngster didn’t know that the hotel required a prefix to be dialed to get an outside line, the call never went through.
Since then, Hank Hunt—Kari’s father—has worked to get laws passed at the local, state and federal levels that are designed to ensure that MLTS systems allow direct dialing to 911, according to Mark Fletcher, a leading advocate for “Kari’s Law” and Avaya’s chief architect.
With only minimal financial impact on enterprises that have a MLTS—most allow for direct dialing to 911 today, if settings are configured properly—various iterations of “Kari’s Law” almost always have passed with unanimous or near-unanimous votes in at least six states and several local jurisdictions, Fletcher said.
Although the proposed federal legislation would address only a MLTS that is “manufactured, imported, offered for first sale or lease, first sold or leased, or installed” two years after the legislation becomes law, the potential impact is much broader, according to Fletcher.
“I think that this sets a very important precedent, regardless of the applicability to existing systems, because it raises the level of awareness,” Fletcher said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “So, if you have the ability [to allow MLTS direct dialing to 911] and you don’t implement it, you’re really operating at your own peril.”
Two longtime advocates of Kari’s Law—Sen. John Cornyn, an original co-sponsor of Kari’s Law, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, began championing Kari’s Law at the FCC while still a commissioner—both issued statement of support for the Senate action on Monday. However, both statements referenced an anticipated signature on the measure from Trump, which created some confusion among outside observers about the status of the legislation. In fact, the Kari’s Law legislation needs House approval before it can be sent to Trump.