Defense bill does not include language to reclassify 911 telecommunicators
Language that would reclassify public-safety telecommunicators as “Protective Service Occupation” personnel instead of administrative/clerical workers will not be part of a key defense funding bill, but 911 advocates expressed their intent to continue the reclassification effort through other legislative efforts in 2020.
911 telecommunicator reclassification language was one a many amendments included in the House version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but this language was not part of the Senate version of the legislation, according to Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). When the two versions of the bill were reconciled, the telecommunicator reclassification language was not included. At a time when political tensions make it difficult to get any laws passed by Congress, 911 officials had expressed hope that the NDAA–a bill that is virtually certain to become law–could serve as a legislative vehicle to make reclassification a reality.
“To be truthful, I’m not terribly surprised that it didn’t survive the [reconciliation] committee,” Fontes said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “I was hopeful that it would—that would have been an easy path toward passage—but that’s life.
“Fortunately, the reclassification bill remains alive, both in the Senate and in the House. Obviously, we’re going to push for additional co-sponsors.”
Fontes noted that the standalone reclassification bills—known as the 911 SAVES Act—in both the House and Senate boast more than 20% of the lawmakers in the respective chambers as co-sponsors. NENA’s efforts to advocate for the reclassification bills will begin immediately and will be a focus of the organization’s annual “911 Goes to Washington” event in February, he said.
This sense of urgency is particularly important in 2020, because getting legislation passed while many federal lawmakers are focused on re-election efforts can be challenging, according to Fontes.
“In a presidential election year, there’s a shortened legislative session, and that’s a given,” Fontes said. “We will have to work with the schedule of Congress.
“It is our desire to have this passed before the election, but who knows? There are a lot of things that can be done in a post-election Congress. At the end of a Congress, they wish to achieve something during the course of their two years. Hopefully, this is one of the things that they would achieve, since it basically doesn’t come at any cost to Congress and it certainly is justified to reclassify 911 professionals.”
The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) also pledged to continue efforts to have the standalone reclassification bills pass Congress.
“The standalone 9-1-1 SAVES Act remains alive. Bipartisan support continues to grow, with 114 U.S. Representatives and 26 U.S. Senators sponsoring the bills,” according to an APCO statement to its membership. “APCO will continue fighting for passage of the 9-1-1 SAVES Act. If you have not already done so, please encourage your Members of Congress to support the 9-1-1 SAVES Act.”
Primary opposition to the reclassification initiatives have come from state and local officials who are concerned that upgrading the classification of 911 personnel would necessitate pay increases for telecommunicators. Fontes said that should not an issue.
“They [job reclassification and pay increases] are separate and distinct issues, Fontes said. “The passage of the reclassification is no guarantee whatsoever of any type of corresponding pay behavior at the local and state levels, nor should it be.
“Reclassification is a description of the job and the responsibilities of the job—it’s a very sterile, statistical approach. If you start adding in political nuances or funding nuances, you’ve gone well beyond the purpose and scope of classifications of jobs.”
This concern is not universal, as NENA cited reclassification efforts in states like Texas, Maryland, Florida and Ohio.
“Some states are reclassifying on their own, without any federal law requiring them to do so. And they seem to be doing it without bankrupting anyone,” Fontes said. “Nor do I understand that there have been any corresponding fixes in salaries, pensions or anything.”