Bill would replace bogus tax with one to improve 911 calls

Joe Leibham  9th Senatorial District

Ths month I was pleased to introduce legislation that seeks to reduce the amount of taxes assessed on phone bills in Wisconsin while funding efforts to maintain and enhance emergency 911 systems across the state. Under my proposal that is now being considered by the full legislature, taxes assessed on phone bills would be reduced by $.35 - $.75 per month per device.

As a part of the bill, the current $.75 per month per device Police and Fire Protection tax would be eliminated. The revenue generated from the tax, which was created by Governor Jim Doyle, was supposed to provide funding for 911 services. Instead, in an effort to balance the state budget, Governor Doyle diverted the revenue generated from the Police and Fire tax to the state’s general budget fund. I voted against this action and since its creation citizens have been outraged at the dishonesty of this tax. Disingenuous actions like this undermine citizens’ faith in their state government. Righting this wrong is critical to restoring the credibility of our budgeting process.

In addition to the current bogus Police and Fire tax, counties currently have the option to assess a monthly fee on landline telephones of up to $.40 per device. For instance, Calumet County taxes at a rate of $.35 per device, Manitowoc at $.40, and Sheboygan at $.24. My proposal would eliminate this fee as well. In exchange for eliminating these two taxes, a monthly $.40 tax would be assessed on all telecommunications devices, with the requirement that the revenue generated must be used to establish a comprehensive statewide emergency 911 program that would ensure an integrated 911 telecommunications system. In addition, the program would provide grants to local Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) for the improvement of emergency 911 services.

When an emergency occurs, a call is dialed to 911 emergency response. PSAPs around the state take the call and with the use of highly technical communications equipment the location of the call is pinpointed, recorded, and a response from an appropriate emergency team is requested and linked. This critical communication requires technical equipment that requires upgrading and updating. Due to the diversion of the police and fire revenue over the past number of years, counties have struggled to maintain their systems and when updates have taken place the costs have been placed on the local tax levy.

My proposal implements, in part, recommendations from the March 2013 report from the Joint Legislative Council’s Special Committee on 911 Communications. This report, issued after months of study by legislative and public citizen Committee members, recommends the type of comprehensive, statewide emergency 911 program established by this proposal. The proposal is supported by the Wisconsin Counties Association and telecommunication providers across the state.

Under my proposal, state telephone taxes will be reduced by $.35 to $.75 per device per month. At the same time, we will right a wrong and enhance emergency response across the state. I look forward to working to convince my legislative colleagues that these are three worthy goals.

Issue Corner – Senate Bill 532: Tests Administered to Newborns for Congenital Disorders

Under current law, blood tests for congenital and metabolic disorders (infant blood tests), as specified in rules promulgated by the Department of Health Services (DHS), must be performed on every infant born in a hospital or maternity home prior to the infant’s discharge. If an infant is born elsewhere than in a hospital or maternity home, these infant blood tests must be performed within one week of birth. Also under current law, DHS may establish a non-required urine testing program to test infants for causes of congenital disorders (infant urine testing program).

This bill expands the provision relating to infant blood tests so that DHS may require any kind of test. The bill does not affect provisions in current law relating to newborn hearing screenings. Information obtained from these required infant tests are subject to the same confidentiality requirements as under current law. The bill also provides that DHS may require reporting in connection with any required infant tests for use in statistical data compilation and for evaluation of infant screening programs.

Also under current law, the parents or legal guardian of the child may object on the grounds that a required infant test conflicts with their religious tenets and practices or personal convictions.

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