Pa House Passes Bills Increasing Phone Bill Fees To Support 911, 988 1
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The Pa House passed HB 1304 and HB 1305 causing an increase to phone bills across the state.

Pennsylvania House of Representatives triumphantly passed a set of measures aimed at strengthening vital emergency communication centers and the state’s suicide hotline, with the means to achieve their goals rooted in an increase in fees imposed on phone bills. The resounding victory of the 911 bill, House Bill 1304, passing with a vote of 121-82, heralds the ascent of the monthly fee from $1.65 to $1.97 for Pennsylvanian residents. The augmented funds will be channeled into procuring equipment, ensuring smooth operations, and embracing novel technological advancements, according to the bill’s sponsors. A projected $30 million surge in revenue is anticipated, culminating in an impressive total of $365 million for the upcoming fiscal year commencing on July 1.

In a similar vein, the 988 bill, House Bill 1305, passed with a vote of 113-90 in the House, ushering in a fresh 6-cent fee scheduled to commence on January 1. The anticipated annual yield of approximately $12 million will be dedicated to financing the day-to-day operations of the call centers, encompassing essential aspects such as staffing, call routing, and related services.

Remarkably, both measures received support from a unanimous bloc of Democrats, with a few Republicans also lending their endorsement. Moreover, in a bid to account for inflation, the fees will be subject to annual adjustments as outlined in the legislation. The next phase for these bills involves their journey to the Senate, currently under Republican control, where their ultimate fate will be determined.

Simultaneously, as these measures gained momentum, the House unanimously advanced a motion on Tuesday to alleviate the financial burden on consumers by excluding cell phone usage from the 6% sales tax and the 5% gross receipts tax. The intended consequence of this move, if subsequently passed by the state Senate, is estimated to save Pennsylvania residents a staggering $124 million annually.

Delving into the specifics, a spokesperson for the House Democrats elucidated that the projected tax cut would yield varied savings for consumers. Under this proposed tax cut alone, an average consumer could expect a reduction of approximately 79 cents in 2024. However, when juxtaposed with the envisaged increase imposed by the 911 and 988 bills, the net reduction for the same period would amount to roughly 41 cents per month.

Representative Jared Solomon, a Philadelphia Democrat and sponsor of the 911 bill, articulated his belief that Pennsylvanians may not experience any increase in their phone bills until 2028 if all three measures were to be enacted into law. In his impassioned plea, he highlighted the outdated state of the current 911 system, harkening back to technology that originated in the 1970s and 80s. Acknowledging the paramount importance of ensuring the safety and security of citizens, Solomon implored his fellow legislators to vote in favor of the bill, emphasizing the significance of fostering safer and more secure neighborhoods.

“Right now, our 911 system is operating off 1970s and 80s technology. We all know that the number one priority of government is to provide for the safety and security of our friends, neighbors and loved ones,” he said. “Let’s vote for this bill. Let’s say yes to safer, more secure neighborhoods.”

Jared Solomon

Opponents of the measures raised concerns about the link between the charges and inflation, expressing apprehension about the sustainability of the proposed tax cut once it undergoes the scrutiny of the Senate. Representative Bryan Cutler, a Republican from Lancaster County, voiced his skepticism, citing the historical lack of follow-through by the government in fulfilling its promises.

“Government does not have a good history of actually following through with what it says it will do,” said Rep. Bryan Cutler, a Republican from Lancaster County.

Bryan Cutler

While the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania expressed support for the increase in 911 funds, it underscored the necessity of a higher fee to adequately meet the demands of emergency services.

Pa House

The context surrounding these measures is marked by the launch of the first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline in the United States last year. To aid states in developing systems that incorporate mental health crisis teams and emergency mental health centers, the federal government provided substantial funding in the hundreds of millions. However, to ensure the continuity of these essential services, states must secure sustainable funding. Notably, at least four states have allocated funds through phone bill fees to support these services, joining Pennsylvania in recognizing the urgency of this matter.

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