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911 hearings conclude at Mo. Capitol

A Missouri House committee has wrapped up a series of hearings on improving 911 communications systems used by emergency responders.  Supporters of proposed upgrades admit, though, that they have a hard case to sell to both politicians and the public.

Lawmakers and local-level officials at today's meeting stressed the need to use 911 systems that can integrate text messaging and even video communications.  “Doc” Kritzer is a county commissioner from Callaway County.

“It is a public safety issue, that’s what we’ve tried to stress for years," Kritzer said.  "This has been going on for 10, 11, 12 years, (and) we’re not making very much progress; we’re hoping to make a giant leap right now with getting this message across.”

State Representative Chuck Gatschenberger (R, Lake St. Louis)  chairs the House Interim Committee on 911 Access.  He says the biggest obstacle to upgrading 911 systems is finding a way to pay for them without raising taxes.

“There’s so many different moving parts here that what you have to do is say, ‘which moving parts are we going after? What are we doing, etc. etc,’" Gatschenberger said.  "Then, after that, how are we gonna fund it?”

Gatschenberger says a ballot initiative might be the only option if lawmakers can’t agree on a bill.  However, Missouri voters rejected a ballot question nine years ago that would have billed cell phone users 50 cents a month to fund an enhanced 911 system.

Gatschenberger says he hopes to persuade both Governor Jay Nixon (D) and House Speaker Steven Tilley (R, Perryville) to support legislation to upgrade the state’s 911 system – but he admits that any bill that would raise taxes or impose user fees will be a hard sell.   

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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