United States senators approved “Kari’s Law” legislation—requiring the ability to direct-dial 911 on multi-line telephone systems (MLTS) frequently used by hotels, offices and other enterprises—by unanimous consent on Friday, greatly improving the potential for the bill to become law later this year.
Although the vast majority of senators departed last Thursday for the traditional August recess, the body conducted a “pro forma” session on Friday that saw the passage of multiple pieces of telecommunications legislations, including S.123 sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), better known as “Kari’s Law.” The legislation would mandate that 911 callers be able to dial the emergency number directly, instead of having to include an additional number or code. On many MLTS systems, callers have to dial an additional number—often “9”—to get an outside line to make a normal phone call, so a 911 call would require the caller to dial “9-911.”
The namesake of the bill is Kari Hunt, whose estranged husband murdered her in a Texas hotel room in December 2013. While the murder took place, Hunt’s 9-year-old daughter tried calling 911 four times. Because the youngster didn’t know that the hotel required a prefix to be dialed to get an outside line, the call never went through.
Since then, Hank Hunt—Kari’s father—has worked to get laws passed at the local, state and federal levels that are designed to ensure that MLTS systems allow direct dialing to 911, according to Mark Fletcher, a leading advocate for “Kari’s Law” and Avaya’s chief architect.
With only minimal financial impact on enterprises with MLTS system—most allow for direct dialing to 911 today, if settings are configured properly—various iterations of “Kari’s Law” almost always have passed with unanimous or near-unanimous votes in at least six states and several local jurisdictions, Fletcher said.
“People keep asking me, ‘Why do you keep after the states, if the federal bill is moving forward?’” Fletcher said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications before the Senate vote. “It’s because the federal bill’s not here yet.”
Senate passage of S.123 was expected, but there was some uncertainty when the legislative body would consider the legislation for a vote, Fletcher said.
“I would hope, with this one being as popular and going through in unanimous or near-unanimous fashion everywhere it’s showed up—at the state level and at the federal level—someone would go, ‘This one is a rubber stamp,’” he said. “I haven’t seen an easier one.”
On the surface, there should be little trouble getting a “Kari’s Law” bill approved by Congress, based on the Senate’s unanimous-consent vote on Friday and the U.S. House voting 408-0 in January to approve a related “Kari’s Law” bill sponsored by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.).
Although both “Kari’s Law” bills were approved unanimously by the House and the Senate, the language in the bills is different, so there is still some work to be done by federal lawmakers. Resolving the matter should not be a significant issue, Fletcher said.
“The bills say basically the same thing—there’s no difference in the meaning of each one—but the words are not identical,” Fletcher said. “So, it will have to go wherever it goes to be turned into a single bill. Now, this is just a correction of grammar; it’s not like one bill wanted something that the other didn’t or that one included something that the other didn’t.
“So, there’s no negotiation that’s got to happen. [That’s good], because that’s what ties the bills up.”