Legislation calling for $10 billion in federal funding to support deployment of next-generation 911 (NG911) has been approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, so the matter can be considered by the full U.S. House as part of the proposed $3.5 trillion budget-reconciliation package.
House Commerce Committee members voted 31-25 along party lines—Democrats supported the measure—for the NG911 funding language during a two-day markup session that included consideration of 16 components of the massive Build Back Better spending proposal. The NG911 funding provisions are in Subtitle K of the package.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a member of the bipartisan Congressional NextGen 911 Caucus and a founding member of the caucus 18 years ago, said she believes the NG911 funding opportunity is significant, noting many failed attempts in the past.
“Most 911 call centers across the country and in your congressional district are still using the same legacy technology that was in place when the first 911 call was made over 50 years ago,” Eshoo said during the markup session on Monday night. “This is unacceptable—we’re the most innovative country in the world, and we’re capable of so much more. Thankfully, we have the opportunity today to make the investments needed to adopt the next generation of public-safety communications.
“NG911 technology will allow our emergency communications centers to receive real-time location information, text messages, photos and video from individuals at the scene of an emergency and to share that information with first responders in the field to help them better respond to the emergency. It will make our emergency communications centers more secure, resilient, interoperable and reliable, and it will help to save lives.”
Language supported by the Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition—a group of public-safety organizations that includes APCO that was established last year—was in the $15 billion NG911 funding proposal in the LIFT America Act, but officials for NENA, NASNA and iCERT have outlined aspects of that initiative that they find objectionable.
Eshoo noted that members of the Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition, NENA and NASNA support the new language in the $10 billion NG911 funding proposal that was unveiled last week.
Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.)—like Eshoo, a member of the Congressional NextGen 911 Caucus—said he believes “this legislation has been improved” since the language was first introduced in the LIFT America Act earlier this year, but he does not believe the NG911 funding provision should be rushed through a “partisan” hearing process.
“I’m deeply disappointed, especially when this is an area where there is true bipartisan agreement,” Hudson said during the markup session.
“This is the most expensive piece of legislation in American history. This one bill spends more money than the GDP of Mexico and Canada combined. It is a stunning amount of money, and it should have gone through regular order. But despite my objections to this underlying legislation, I want my colleagues to understand that I remain committed to next-generation 911.”
Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) proposed an amendment that would stipulate that jurisdictions that have “made any effort or taken action—including voting on ordinances, budgets or resolutions—to defund or eliminate law enforcement” would not be eligible to receive federal funding from the proposed NG911 grant program.
Johnson said he supports funding an upgrade to the 911 system but does not believe that jurisdictions supporting “defund the police” should be allowed to participate.
“Why should the federal government provide funding to jurisdictions that have chosen to not provide critical funding for law enforcement?” Johnson said. “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t vote to defund or eliminate your law enforcement and also ask American taxpayers to help you upgrade your 911 services to reach these same first responders.”
Eshoo responded by describing Johnson as “ridiculous” and “an insult,” noting that NG911 funding language does prohibit entities that divert 911 revenues for other purposes—a tactic historically used to balance budgets in some jurisdictions—from receiving funds from the NG911 grant program, if it is exists.
Johnson’s proposed amendment failed.
The Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition applauded the House committee’s action on the NG911 funding item in a prepared statement released yesterday.
“The risks confronting our communities are more complicated and dependent upon essential communications than ever before,” according to the coalition statement. “Next Generation 911 technology will lead to faster and improved emergency response, make first responders and communities safer, and allow public safety professionals to meet the needs and expectations of the American people in the 21st Century.
“We now urge the Senate to fully fund this critical infrastructure. In this regard, the coalition will continue its efforts to work with Senate offices to ensure that state and local public safety agencies receive the resources they need to fully upgrade their 911 systems in an interoperable, innovative, and secure manner.”
Many Republicans on the committee expressed doubts that the overall spending package would be approved by the Senate. Several Beltway sources have indicated that the current $3.5 trillion package will pass the Senate, but a smaller spending bill could get Senate approval.
This language in the budget-reconciliation legislation marks the first time that NG911 funding has been mentioned in legislation since $15 billion for NG911 was proposed in a Democrat-led House infrastructure bill that was not approved. Subsequent infrastructure proposals from House Republicans, the White House and a bipartisan Senate group have not addressed NG911.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) pledged in April to reintroduce the “Next Generation 911 Act of 2019” that called for $12 billion in federal NG911 funding, but no standalone bill addressing NG911 has been introduced to date.
There is a consensus that the nation’s emergency communications centers (ECCs)—referenced as public-safety answering points (PSAPs) in the past—should migrate to the IP-based NG911 platform from the legacy technology that largely was developed 50 years ago. There also is agreement that significant federal funding is needed to deploy NG911 nationwide, so there is not a “patchwork quilt” of 911 capabilities throughout the U.S., based on resources and funding priorities.
But there have been disagreements about how this should be accomplished. NG911 language in the budget-reconciliation legislation appears to avoid many of the more controversial language included in the LIFT America Act proposal, often not addressing the issues specifically.