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Opponents cite fund, advisory board as problems in Nebraska 911 Act bill

January 28, 2014

LINCOLN--Legislative bill 911 has a fitting name. It's the bill that would create the Nebraska 911 Act, aimed at addressing issues related to so-called "next- generation" emergency calls by texting or other electronic communications. It also would create a Next-Generation Advisory Council for the state's Public Service Commission.

LB911 had its public hearing on Monday in the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, who chairs the committee and is also sponsoring LB911, said the bill is a "work in progress." It depends fully on the outcome of a next-generation study by the Public Service Commission of the costs and implications of next-generation emergency telephone communications, she said, adding that she is open for amendments.

The U.S. Department of Transportation says next-generation 911 technology will allow any networked device to make 911 calls and allow responders and callers to provide more accurate information and more timely response, among other things. One of the main things Dubas wants is for people to be able to text 911 instead of just calling it. Many people already think they can text 911, and that is putting them in danger, she said, because in most places in Nebraska they can't.

Eric Carstenson of the Nebraska Telecommunications Association was the only proponent of the bill at the hearing, but several people opposed it as it is written, citing concerns with funding, operations and the implications of a new advisory board.

Buffalo County Sheriff Neil Miller presented on behalf of the Nebraska Sheriff's Association and said the state is "right around the corner from texting 911." His biggest concern was the makeup of the advisory council, which would include public safety officials and representatives of state communications agencies.

Harold Peterson, presenting on behalf of the Keith County Board of Commissioners, said the biggest issue was cost. With fewer and fewer people owning landlines, less money is being made off the 911 surcharge. Wireless companies can charge up to 70 cents every month to support the emergency 911 service, but that is significantly less than the money earned from landlines.

Peterson and Jon Rosenlund, the emergency management director in Grand Island, suggested that if the advisory board idea goes through it also would help to name an operational technical person that local governments could consult.

Rosenlund added that because 911 systems are mostly locally run, if a next-generation system were to be enacted, those local operations would need more funding and state support.

Mark Conrey, the 911 director for Omaha and Douglas County, did not take a position on the bill but raised some concerns. He said 911 service absolutely needs to be defined before LB911 goes further.

"Where does it start, and where does it stop?" Conrey said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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