JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri voters could stick cell phone users with an extra charge under a measure working its way through the legislature.
A bill before the state legislature would put a 75 cents maximum per month charge on wireless telecommunications bills.
The money would pay for 911 emergency services on cell phones. The exact amount of the monthly charge would be set by the state administration depending on its estimate of the costs for a 911 service.
The bill would require voter approval to take effect.
Most cellular phone users have 911 service. However, it's not always a guarantee, especially in rural areas. Even if a 911 service answers, it may not be the nearest service.
"If I bought my phone in Kansas City, it would connect me in Kansas City. We need to be able to connect to the nearest 911 agency," said bill sponsor Rep. Carol Jean Mays, D-Independence. "You need money to do these things."
Currently, cellular phone carriers decide through whom they provide emergency service - such as the Missouri State Highway Patrol or the local police.
Ameritech Cellular Services provides 911 service free of charge and works with public service organizations to place calls to the nearest operator, according to Ameritech spokeswoman Debbie Schlattman.
"Of course, we can't guarantee every call will go through because we're on a radio frequency," Schlattman said. "But it's rare for a call not to go through."
The bill would fund additional equipment at public safety answering points, which handle 911 calls. It would also pay for a database of national cellular phone numbers, according to James Biggerstaff of the Highway Patrol.
Cellular phone users can call *55, which connects you directly to the Highway Patrol. That service would continue even if the bill passes.
"911 is that number that has been pounded in our heads since we were children," Biggerstaff said. "It's the main number for the wire side so it should be for the wireless too, but *55 is still alive."
An amendment tacked onto the bill would remove all 911 transcripts from public record unless the callers give permission to release them.
The bill has won preliminary approval by the House. If it passes the legislature, it would be on the November 1998 ballot.