A bill was recently submitted to the Puerto Rico Senate to ensure that funds received by the commonwealth’s 9-1-1 Emergency System are not diverted for other purposes, in accordance with federal regulations.
Senate Bill 1059 aims to cut a past government practice of using the money collected from consumers to run the 9-1-1 service to cover other expenses. That habit drew heavy criticism and an admonishment from the Federal Communications Commission, as this media outlet reported.
The measure seeks to amend a trio of laws — Act 20 of April 2017, known as the as the “Department of Public Safety Act,” Act 26 of April 2017, known as the “Fiscal Plan Compliance Act,” and Act 3 of January 2017 known as the “Act to Address the Economic Crisis, Fiscal and Budget to ensure the functioning of the Government of Puerto Rico.”
The changes seek to “to ensure that the use of funds received by the 9-1-1 Emergency System are used in accordance with current federal regulations, guarantee their fiscal independence and prohibit the use of such funds for purposes contrary to federal legislation and regulation.”
“9-1-1 has the arduous and difficult task of being the first point of contact throughout the island for any emergency that may occur,” the bill states.
The agency operates with its own fiscal resources from fees charged to cell phone, residential or commercial telecom services, both wired and wireless services, which makes it autonomous and self-sufficient, not depending on the government’s General Fund. It responds to the FCC.
Several federal laws passed in the last decade dictate that collected fees for 9-1-1 services must be used “solely and exclusively for these purposes,” the bill states.
“Puerto Rico was in compliance with said federal legislation and regulation until, in 2014, funds were transferred from the 9-1-1 system to the General Fund and for other matters not related to the emergency system,” the bill notes.
Earlier this year, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló admitted to the FCC that some $243,100 in 9-1-1 funds were diverted to the Puerto Rico Treasury Department in 2016, under Gov. Alejandro García-Padilla’s administration.
“This has led to a financial imbalance in the coffers of the emergency system and has put at risk Puerto Rico’s access to federal funds and programs to improve telecommunications infrastructure and the 9-1-1 emergency system,” according to the measure.
The 9-1-1 system plays an integral role in preserving public safety and national security in Puerto Rico and the United States.
“The experience of Puerto Rico, after the passage of Hurricane María, demonstrated and highlighted the importance and necessity of having a solid and reliable emergency system. For such purposes, it is the public policy of the government of Puerto Rico to prohibit the use of 9-1-1 funds for unauthorized purposes and permitted by state and federal law,” according to the bill.