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Senate Passes Kari's Law Requiring Direct 9-1-1 Access

Date: 2017-08-11
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Kari’s Law, a measure named for a slain East Texas woman that would require businesses to enable direct-dial access to 9-1-1, was passed by the US Senate last week, seven months after it passed the House. After differences between the House and Senate bill are negotiated, it will head to the president for his signature.

The measure was named for Kari Hunt Dunn, who in 2013 was stabbed multiple times in a hotel room by her estranged husband, as her children watched. Her then-9-year-old daughter repeatedly dialed 9-1-1, but was unable to reach emergency responders because the hotel phone required her to first dial 9. Hunt's slaying in December inspired her father, Hank Hunt, to launch a national push to require hotels and other businesses to do away with dialing 9 or anything else before calling 9-1-1.

The state of Texas, where the incident occurred, passed a statewide version of Kari’s Law in 2015, which subsequently was introduced into the US House earlier this year.  The state law mandates that owners of multi-line telephone systems (MLTS) used in commercial businesses, schools and government facilities in the State must provide direct-dial access to 9-1-1 without having to first dial an additional digit such as 9 before getting an outside line, and recommends that critical on-site notification be deployed when available in the system.

“I signed Kari’s Law to ensure that all Texans have the ability to access 9-1-1 services no matter where they find themselves during an emergency,” stated Texas Governor Greg Abbott. “This important change to Texas law is only as good as the compliance that follows. The use of multi-line telephone systems should not impede anyone’s ability to make a life-saving phone call, and I am urging all business service users employing a MLTS to ensure they are compliant. Lives depend on your cooperation.”

House bill H.R. 582, which amends the Communications Act of 1934, was introduced by Representative Louie Gohmert, from Marshall, Texas, Kari’s home district, and was immediately passed in a bi-partisan vote of 408-0 vote in the first weeks of the new congress. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., introduced the Senate version, with Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz among its co-sponsors.

On August 4, Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Ajit Pai, released the following statement regarding unanimous U.S. Senate passage of Kari's Law Act of 2017:  "I am pleased that the U.S. Senate unanimously passed Kari's Law. This legislation will help ensure that every call to 9-1-1 directly connects those in need with those who can help. I also commend Hank Hunt, Kari's father, for channeling his pain into a passion for change. Thanks to his efforts and those of many others, Americans will one day be able to call 9-1-1 and reach first responders without having to dial an access code. I hope that this critical public safety measure will soon become law."

Mark Fletcher, an executive with the business communications software firm Avaya that has pushed for the bill, said many lawmakers told him the measure was a “no-brainer.” It’s “just the right thing to do,” he said. “Shortly after this tragic incident, I personally met with the Hunt family and committed Avaya’s support championing this initiative,” added Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy. “We are proud to have made good on that promise, and continue to do so as part of our daily business in educating and enabling our partners and customers.”

With approval achieved in the House and Senate, the bill proceeds to the Oval Office for the president’s approval. If signed into law, businesses will have two years to update their phone systems.

- People, Places & Things/9-1-1magazine.com (various sources, incl. The Dallas Morning News, Avaya, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, and the FCC)

 
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