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Missouri 911 Cell Phone Tax Heads to Senate

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The free ride for cell phone users and 9-1-1 services may soon be over.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The free ride for cell phone users and 9-1-1 services may soon be over.

Since the rise in the use of cell phones, 911 centers across the country have been faced with handling more calls with less money coming in.

Missouri is the last state in the nation to be without a tax or fee on cellular phones, but a bill that passed the Missouri House may change that.

More than a dozen Missouri counties still don't even have 911 services. All of the counties still rely on fees that apply only to landlines when the vast majority of calls come from cell phones.

The vast majority of calls that come into this 911 center are on cellular phones, many times there are multiple calls for the same incident

“Just here in Greene County in the last ten years we've seen an increase of 40 percent of our 911 calls were from a wireless device to now 79 percent of all of our calls that come in,” says Zim Schwartze, director of Springfield-Greene County 911.

But, landlines still shoulder the fees for 911 services.

“Missouri is the only state that doesn't have any type of wireless funding in place at this time,” says Schwartze.

It's not as big of an issue for 911 centers in metropolitan areas.

“Greene County has a tax specifically for 911 as sales tax back in 2007 so we have been very fortunate to be on the cutting edge of realizing this problem,” says Schwartze.

But, rural areas suffer.

“The different organizations in the state have tried for nearly 15 years to get legislation past to help with this issue that we knew was coming up and has grown significantly in the last decade,” says Schwartze.

Some counties don't even have 911 services, meaning vital information about the number the person is calling from or where the caller is isn't relayed automatically.

Missouri House Bill 17-53 hopes to change that.
“There's still 14 counties in the state of Missouri that don't have any 911 at all at this point so that's another option for them to attempt to gain enough funding to gain 911 in their county,” says J.R. Webb, assistant director of Springfield-Greene County 911.

The house bill provides more option for counties.

“Either a tariff only landline telephones calling into 911 or by a sales tax for the whole county,” says Webb. “And includes cell phones with plans and prepaid. That third option is charging up to a dollar and fifty cents for any device that can contact 911. Placing a tax on prepaid wireless at the point of sale so when they buy their device or they buy their extra minutes they'll actually be paying that fee right up front, right at the sale.”

The bill is now on its way to the Senate.

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