Trends and Transitions: September 2012 | STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE
The Texting Troubles of 911
Americans have come to rely on 911 for emergencies, but the system is showing its age. Decades old and outdated, very few 911 call centers can receive text messages, pictures or videos—all standard communications in today’s world.
Created in a world of landline phones 40 years ago, the system no longer supports the technology of its users. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than one-quarter of Americans have only wireless telephones (no landline service), while a recent Pew Internet survey found that at least 83 percent of American adults now own cell phones. Usage of wireless devices continues to grow. CTIA-The Wireless Association reports that the number of wireless connections increased more than 20 million from December 2010 to December 2011.
And texting is topping talking. Increasingly the communication of choice, especially for younger users, the Pew survey found cell phone users between 18 and 24 years old exchange an average of 109.5 messages a day. It also found that 73 percent of adult cell phone users send and receive text messages, and nearly a third of all texters actually prefer texting over talking. Yet only 0.01 percent of all public safety answering points (PSAPs) can accept text messages.
Being able to text 911 for help would obviously benefit a public increasingly connected to their phones. But it could also benefit emergency responders—fire fighters, police officers and dispatchers who could respond to real-time information, such as photos, audio or videos of a fire, car crash, natural disaster or crime in progress.
Updating the system’s technology for wireless and Internet-based communications is critical to improving safety, but sure to be complicated and costly. The Next Generation 911 (or NG911) initiative, led by the U.S. Department of Transportation, is aimed at upgrading 911 systems to be able to support emergency communications from any wired, wireless or Internet-based device. The goal is for new infrastructure to support multi-media data (voice, text messages, images and video) from a variety of sources, including laptops, mobile phones, vehicle safety systems, smoke alarms, and even personal medical devices.
In addition to upgrading technology, making the transition to the NG911 system will involve significant policy challenges. Governance, coordination, liability protection, funding, training, competition and regulations are among the key issues for policymakers, according to a recent report by the National Emergency Number Association, requiring emergency officials, lawmakers and other government leaders to work together.
Congress passed the Next Generation 911 Advancement Act of 2012 as a part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. It provides $115 million in matching grants to assist state or local governments or tribal organizations in upgrading their 911 systems. The grants will be managed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. To ensure accountability, the act also directs the comptroller general to produce a report on state and local government taxes, fees or other charges dedicated to improving emergency communications services and detailing how that revenue is used.
—Jo Anne Bourquard
Lions, Tigers and Bears? Not in My Backyard!
Officers killed 50 exotic animals released by their owner in Zanesville, Ohio, in October 2011. The bizarre story captivated the public’s attention and prompted state legislators to take another look at their wild animal laws. Twelve states—Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia—have introduced legislation this session addressing the possession of exotic or wild animals.
Ohio lawmakers passed a bill that prohibits any new sales of “dangerous wild animals,” including lions, tigers, bears, certain primates and other big cats, as well as “restricted snakes,” which include pythons, anacondas and various poisonous snakes. The new law makes Ohio the 30th state to ban or partially ban the ownership of exotic animals.
As for those who already own an exotic animal, Ohio now requires them to register their animals—which includes having them micro-chipped—with the director of agriculture within 60 days of Sept. 5, 2012. The law also differentiates between permits for dangerous wild animals and restricted snakes. The snake owners are not required to implant microchips, but they must sign an affidavit stating that they will allow only certain individuals—primary and secondary school-age children, as well as the owner’s volunteers and employees—to come in contact with the restricted snakes.
Ohio used to give owners one hour to report any escaped animals, but now requires owners to notify law enforcement and the Division of Animal Health immediately. It also holds owners liable for all costs associated with the capture or destruction of any escaped animal.
Be Cool, Stay in School
Compulsory school age is a hot topic in many state legislatures. Lawmakers in Rhode Island raised the age from 16 to 18 in 2011, and this year the Maryland General Assembly passed a law gradually increasing the dropout age until it reaches 18 after July 1, 2017. At least 12 other state legislatures have debated the issue in the last couple of years.
Currently 21 states and the District of Columbia, American Samoa and Puerto Rico require students to stay school until age 18; 11 states until age 17; and 18 states and the Virgin Islands until age 16.
According to recommendations made by the NCSL Task Force on School Dropout Prevention and Recovery, “Evidence suggests that raising the maximum compulsory school age above 16 curtails dropout rates and produces other positive results.” Studies show, for example, that those who stay in school longer find better jobs and report greater satisfaction with their lives. The task force advises that states can make maximum compulsory school attendance more meaningful by revoking work permits and driving privileges. They can also require that students who leave school before graduating be informed about the economic consequences of dropping out and how to eventually earn their diplomas.
NCSL Voices State Concerns
In a statement for the record during a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives on the status of REAL ID, NCSL wrote, “While state legislators across the country share the goal of ensuring the security and integrity of state-issued DL/ID cards, the road to successful implementation of REAL ID has been impeded by a number of obstacles which remain unresolved.” These include:
Uncertainly regarding the availability of and connectivity with several databases states will to have to use in order to electronically verify identity documents.
Ambiguity regarding the governance structure of the databases.
Uncertainty regarding privacy protections.
Failure by the federal government to fully fund REAL ID requirements. Only $273 million is available to states to implement the $3.9 billion mandate, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The Latest on REAL ID
Pennsylvania in May joined 16 other states that passed laws opposing compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. The law also authorizes the governor and attorney general to file an action in court to challenge the constitutionality or legality of the federal law.
The 2005-enacated REAL ID Act (P.L. 109-13) requires states to adopt federal standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. These standards require states to: apply physical security features to a card; accept only certain documents to confirm an applicant’s identity and verify the validity of those documents; conduct background checks for some motor vehicle department employees; and install certain security features at motor vehicle facilities.
The regulations require states and territories to submit certification materials by Oct. 15, 2012—at least 90 days before the effective date of compliance, which is Jan. 15, 2013. Residents from non-compliant states will not be able to use their state issued driver’s licenses or identification cards for certain federal purposes, including boarding commercial aircraft, accessing federal facilities or entering nuclear power plants. The department has no plans to extend the January 2013 deadline, reported an official from the Department of Homeland Security during a congressional hearing earlier this year.