A bill that would increase the existing 75 cent fee on phone bills to support 911 dispatch centers across the state was overwhelmingly approved in the Oregon House of Representatives June 6.

As amended, House Bill 2449 will increase the fee for wireless and wired telephone accounts and prepaid wireless retail transactions to $1 next year and to $1.25 in 2021.

The bill passed in the House by 48-10 and will move on to the Senate where it will be assigned to a committee by Senate President Peter Courtney. Rep. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, sponsored the bill.

“As a legislative body, we take very few votes that literally have the ability to save someone’s life. If we continue to underfund our public service answering points, Oregonians all over the state, from Multnomah County to Malheur County, will suffer,” Findley said. “Oregonians expect and deserve to have the best, most reliable access to emergency services.”

Using estimates from the Oregon Military Department, the Association of Oregon Counties projects the increased fee will generate $15.1 million in quarterly revenue beginning in January 2020 and $18.9 million beginning in January 2021.

Supporters of the bill noted that the phone tax hasn’t increased in 24 years, while new technologies and other requirements placed an increasing financial burden on emergency communications agencies and rural counties with small populations.

As originally proposed, the phone tax would have doubled to $1.50. It was opposed in House Revenue Committee hearings by Verizon, T-Mobile and CTIA, a trade association for the wireless communications industry.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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