911 bill fails, then passes in House

911 bill fails, then passes in House by Susan Smith A bill to study South Dakota�s 911 system passed after reconsideration by the House during a lengthy session Feb. 22.

The bill would make legislative findings and recommendations for improvement to the 911 emergency notification system and would provide for the development of a statewide comprehensive plan.

The state currently has 32 public safety answering points, some of which have fewer than two calls per day, Rep. Scott Eccarius, R-Rapid City said.

�The way we�re going now, we have a patchwork, piecemeal system based on local control,� Eccarius said. �This brings together experts so we can get where we want to be for the 21st Century.�

Opponents of the bill have contended that the current 911 system is necessary because having a local dispatcher in most counties increases the likelihood that ambulances will be able to get to a patient�s house in good time.

�The bottom line is, if I�m having chest pains, I don�t care who�s on the other end of the line as long as they can get an ambulance from Rapid City to my house,� Eccarius said.

Eccarius cited examples of places such as Los Angeles County where one answering system covers five million people.

�The Strategic Air Command runs the entire operation of the U.S. Air Force from Omaha, NE,� Eccarius said. �It all comes down to whether you�re a lumper or a splitter.�

The bill was a bad one because it didn�t address the problem and therefore didn�t provide a long-term solution, said Rep. Thomas Hennies, R-Rapid City.

�I�m opposed to the body passing a law that resulted from an executive branch study of 911,� he said. �The study was put together by people who are not practitioners.�

Currently, 911 gets 75 cents from every phone line in South Dakota plus a county allocation.

�I�ve been told by practitioners from all over the state, ?Somebody wants our 75 cents,� �� Hennies said.

Rep. Deb Fischer-Clemens, D-Mitchell, told legislators that part of the reason for the bill came as a result of the Spencer tornado disaster, but that did not mean that the 911 system failed just because emergency medical personnel, law enforcement and fire fighters could not talk to each other. Communication failed at Spencer for a time due to incompatible radios.

The governor stepped in and purchased radios that would work together.

�When the first call came in to the 911 center, the 911 center did respond in a timely and appropriate manner to get the ambulances to Spencer, which is why emergency medical response was almost immediate,� she said. �The problem existed because of State Radio.�

Rep. Steve Cutler urged the House to look at the big picture before defeating the bill. �That�s why they send us to Pierre,� he said. �You�re supposed to speak for the people on the broad issue items.�

The bill originally failed 35-33.

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