State Politics

Pre-paid phone fee would aid 911 system

MANATEE — In an effort to support the 911 emergency system, state Sen. Mike Bennett held a press conference Thursday at the Capitol about a bill that would set up a system to collect fees from purchasers of wireless pre-paid phones.

Currently, the fee applies only to land lines and regular wireless phones, not pre-paid ones, said Bennett, R-Bradenton.

He characterized the problem he was trying to fix as a “loophole” in the law.

The bill, Senate Bill 1202, sets up a collection method to apply an existing fee to pre-paid phones in an effort to replenish the state’s 911 system, he said.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure there are adequate funds for the 911 system,” Bennett said.

Because the use of pre- paid phones is growing, while the use of land-based telephone lines is diminishing, the 911 emergency fund is expected to be short almost $5 million at the end of the next budget year, Bennett said.

“They should be collecting on every pre-paid cellphone,” Bennett said.

Should the bill pass, a one-time fee of about 50 cents would be collected whenever someone purchases a pre-paid wireless phone, officials estimated.

Sprint Nextel spokes- person Crystal N. Davis said as the pre-paid market continues to grow exponentially, her company wants to ensure that emergency 911 services are funded in a way to provide effective emergency response for all wireless consumers, but she said that the way the fee is calculated should be done fairly.

Capt. Larry Leinhauser, Manatee County’s public safety spokesman, said he had not yet read the bill, but added, “Any revenue that would assist us would be an advantage.”