On Monday, Gov. Jim Justice pulled his Senate Bill 289 after complaints the bill would reduce 911 funding by 11 percent.
The bill was intended to modify the wireless enhanced 911 fee to ensure compliance with federal FCC regulations, the governor said in a press release.
During the Jan. 16 Wyoming County Commission meeting, Dean Meadows, county Emergency Services director, told commissioners the bill would have a devastating impact on 911 agencies across the state.
“We’re very concerned about Bill 289,” Meadows said.
“It’s a very deceptive bill.”
The bill will cut 911 funding by 11 percent, he said.
A 2004 bill provided funding, from a wireless customer fee, that allowed every county to be served by enhanced 911 coverage.
Meadows had met with the governor’s attorney earlier, representing all 55 counties, concerning FCC accusations of illegal funding diversions by the state of West Virginia.
West Virginia has diverted a percentage of collected wireless fees to increase the number of communication towers, to the State Police, to Homeland Security – all of which the FCC says is illegal.
The FCC said all the fees are to go to 911 centers.
While Wyoming County has taken care of its 911 funding, Senate Bill 289 could put other counties in the red, Meadows told commissioners Jan. 16.
He said representatives of counties around the state have spent time talking with senators to explain the problems with the bill.
Meadows said he fears most senators do not understand how deceptive the bill is and that newspaper accounts have spurred a lot of misinformation.
No one seems to know the purpose of the bill, Meadows said.
Meadows also encouraged the commissioners to talk with various representatives and statewide groups about opposing the bill.
“It’s just a very deceptive bill,” Meadows told commissioners. “It will be a big blow to us.”
“After extensive meetings and listening, it became very clear that my intent for Senate Bill 289 was not being properly communicated,” Justice said in the press release.
“I have never wanted a dime taken away from our 911 centers or our counties,” the governor said.
“Much to the contrary, West Virginia was advised that we were out of compliance by the FCC due to diverting funds to non-911 related expenditures and that we were jeopardizing future FCC grants to our state.
“We have explored protecting all our counties and keeping them 100 percent whole by funding all these dollars through general revenue,” the governor said in the press release.
“Nevertheless, we have met with Sen. Tom Takubo, Dean Meadows, director of the Wyoming County 911, Kent Carper, (state House of Delegates) Speaker Roger Hanshaw, and (state Senate) President Mitch Carmichael.
“Additionally, over the weekend, I talked with newly appointed Senator Paul Hardesty.
“This morning at around 9 a.m., my staff met with Senator Craig Blair to look at forming an exploratory committee to ensure we reach the best solution.
“Considering all this input, I have decided to pull the bill. This will shield the counties from any possible harm until all parties have a better understanding,” Justice said.