Tuesday, May 5, 2009

In the Charlotte Sun

Here we are receiving support across the nation but in Florida......

Thank you Senator Detert, Rep Kreegel, Rep Roberson and David Garofalo. Please, keep fighting the good fight and that is to save lives by minimizing human error and creating standards for 9-1-1 dispatchers and call takers.

The bill had flaws but it was a start. It's truly appalling, pathetic and sad that certain public officials put politics before public safety.

No hurry to pass 911 bill

Staff Writer

NORTH PORT -- Local legislators are disappointed that their efforts to require enhanced 911 emergency dispatcher certification failed last week.

State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, called it "unbelievable that something with this much common sense could not pass the Legislature."

A bill in the House of Representatives that required certification standards for 911 operators in Florida was sponsored by state Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, and co-sponsored by Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda.

The local legislators had high hopes for the bill after it was given unanimous approval by the House Health Care Regulation Policy Committee in March. But it was indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration on Saturday, one day after the session ended.

Meanwhile, a bill in the Senate, sponsored by Detert, that requires 911 operators to be certified by the state Department of Health, was in the Health and Human Services Appropriations committee in April.

"Since there was no movement in the House and we were running out of days, the Senate did not want to work on it any longer," Detert said.

Detert rejects the assertion that sheriffs across the state, who initially opposed the bill, did not ultimately support it.

"We had worked that all out and the sheriffs did support it in the end," Detert said. "There was one major lobbyist (Richard Pinsky) who testified against it several times. He represents the 911 operators and they wanted totally different language that we did not agree to."

Referring to Pinsky, who lobbies for the Florida 911 Emergency Dispatchers organization, Kreegel said, "There are some lobbyists for the 911 operators who interfered with the process greatly."

The House bill passed through the House Health Care Regulation Policy Committee after an impassioned speech by North Port City Commissioner David Garofalo, who is on the board of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation.

"He didn't make a speech; he hit a home run," Kreegel said.

Last year the Legislature made law a Kreegel-sponsored bill that recommended higher certification standards for 911 operators statewide but did not mandate them. That law followed the murder of 21-year-old Denise Amber Lee, who was kidnapped from her North Port home in January 2008.

The Lee family believes the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office botched a 911 call to dispatch units to the intersection where Denise was last seen by a motorist.

Currently, each emergency dispatch call center mandates its own criteria. Detert says her bill would have provided uniformity "from county to county and to make it mandatory instead of voluntary. Part of the dispute was who was going to teach the course and we were going to allow the sheriffs to do it themselves."

Detert said Denise Lee's husband, Nathan Lee, who is promoting 911 certification nationwide, "wants consistency and I support that and our bill provided consistency," meaning counties would have been required to provide similar training.

"If there is any cost involved, that does not bother me because that's why the sheriffs get funding, to protect the public and for safety issues. That's what our tax dollars pay for."

Nathan Lee echoed his displeasure at the bill's failure.

"I'm disappointed, but in the same respect, I'm excited about drafting our own legislation," he said Tuesday.

Kreegel was also disappointed that senators "never got it done. They had bigger fish to fry with the budget. Very little was passed this year.

"In the House it was ready to go to the floor, (but) if you have something with no traction in the Senate, then it won't be heard on the floor of the House," Kreegel said.

Detert says she will reintroduce the bill next year.

"It will be back," she said. "It was a good learning experience for Ken Roberson that the simplest things are harder than they look and you have to strap on your armor and battle lobbyists. I think it was a surprise to him that the sheriffs would not support this bill (initially).

"Next year he'll have better luck because we have smoothed the road."

"It was a good learning experience but he actually did an excellent job shepherding it through committee," Kreegel said of Roberson.

Staff writer Jason Witz contributed to this report.

E-mail: escott@sun-herald.com