Missouri House OKs measure to tax cellphones for 911 calls

Proposal now moves to Senate

By Emma Nicolas

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House voted to be the last state to tax cellphones for 911 calls, under a measure proposed last week.

Since 2000, lawmakers have been pushing variations of a 911 cellphone tax bill. Currently, the only tax for 911-call services is charged on a landline phone. As a result, bill proponents argue that funding for 911 services decreases each year as Missourians drop dedicated lines for mobile phones.

The result, bill supporters argue, is the loss of tax revenue to support 911 emergency responses.

Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Jackson County, the bill’s sponsor, said “pick any highway” and on it there will be an area where 911 services cannot be reached.

This bill would impose a $1.50 tax on 911 cellphone calls that last 10 minutes or more, or on phone calls that cost $5 or more on a prepaid cellphone. Lauer said this bill differs from earlier bills because it would require the tax to be approved by voters in each county rather than being placed on the statewide ballot, where it has been rejected twice in the past.

“We’re about to make a great bound forward, in something that’s really an embarrassment to Missouri. We’ve got more counties in Missouri that don’t have access to 911 services than all the surrounding states combined” said Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Jefferson County.

Roorda’s tone shifted after Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, introduced an amendment that would allow nonparamedics to drive medic units in times where both ambulance workers are required to stabilize a patient.

“If you allow this bad amendment to go into this good bill, you endanger this bill,” Roorda said.

Rep. Glen Klkmeyer, R-Lafayette, said this is a good amendment for rural areas who frequently need the extra help in the back of an ambulance.

Roorda called this the “Hey you over there, drive this ambulance” amendment, and said it puts unqualified people in the driver’s seat.

Rep. Charlie Norr, D-Springfield, said he drove a medic unit for years and felt safer fighting fires over driving ambulances. He continued to say that half the training of being a paramedic is learning to drive an ambulance.

The House approved the amendment. In closing, Lauer said this bill is not just a rural issue.

“This truly is about life and death. This is about making sure that whether you are traveling across the state or have family living in any part of this state that they can be protected, that they can be found and they can be helped,” Lauer said.

The bill gained approval in the House and will now move to the Senate for approval.