Place, Newberry among House Republicans to win battle over 911 funding

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PROVIDENCE – Representatives from Burrillville were among a minority of Republicans in the House to fight for, and win, a movement to get the E911 surcharge fees on phone bills placed in a restricted account in the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Legislation to codified restricted receipt accounts has been a longtime Republican initiative, and this year’s bill, H5374, was sponsored by Reps. Jack Lyle, Michael Chippendale, David Place, Robert Quattrocchi, George Nardone. Sherry Roberts, Justin Price, Brian Newberry, and Leader Blake Filippi.

Newberry has represented District 48 in North Smithfield and part of Burrillville since 2008. Place was elected to the District 47 seat representing Burrillville and Glocester in 2018.

The two are among just nine Republicans currently serving in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, while 66 Democrats make up the majority.

To comply with federal requirements, the surcharges on phone bills will be split into two separate charges, one to support E911 operations and another for funding other public safety needs. Both will go into restricted receipt accounts.

According to a release from the minority office, Rhode Island’s E911 surcharge fees came under national scrutiny after House Republicans brought the diversion of fees to light in the FY16 budget review.  The Federal Communications Commission called out Rhode Island in April 2019 for continuing to divert more than $8 million, or 60 percent of the fees it collected, for 911 and spending it on other budget items. The FCC claims that insufficient funding has “undermined Rhode Island’s 911 system, leading to longer wait times, delayed emergency responses, worker fatigue, lower morale and an inability to invest in new systems.”

The cause has also had support from some Democrats in the state, especially locally. The Burrillville Town Council voted unanimously on a resolution urging state officials to take action on the issue in April, and local activist and Democrat Paul Roselli has been working with others involved in health care reform in the state to bring change to Rhode Island’s methods of financing the emergency system.

“We have restored honesty and integrity to the phone fee collection process,” said Lyle, lead sponsor of the legislation. “Monies designated and articulated to the taxpayer for a specific initiative should never be diverted to the General Fund. Period.”

“It is imperative for us to support a robust and responsive E911 call system,” said Place. “I am pleased that our efforts did not land on deaf ears and that Rhode Island will finally be compliant with the FCC.”

A release this week stated that House Republicans continue to review the budget language to ensure that the fee collection process complies with Federal regulations and that taxpayer funding for E911 is protected from being allotted to uses not designated in the fee.

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