Exclusive Interview with Illinois Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant on Kari’s Law, Strengthening 911

Kari’s Law remains a big headline around the nation. This past week, CBS 3 in Philadelphia aired a great piece where I had an opportunity to sit down with co-anchor Jessica Dean.

This was right on the heels of Illinois Legislative Bill 1313 that raced its way through the House and Senate and is now sitting on the Governors desk waiting for a signature.

The amendment to Illinois’ existing legislation is designed to address dialing access to 911 without any additional digits, and ensure that 911 calls are routed to official 911 centers. Businesses may answer their own calls if they are equipped to do so, and have been authorized by public safety officials.

APN Legal Correspondent Martha Buyer was researching the new law, and secured this exclusive one-on-one interview with 49th District State Senator Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, who sponsored the bill after hearing the tragic story.

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Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant

Fletch: Welcome to E911 Talk. We’re joined today by APN Legal Correspondent, Martha Buyer. Martha, thanks again for joining us today.

Martha Buyer: You’re welcome. Thanks for the invitation, Fletch.

Fletch: We’re also joined by Illinois State Senator, the Honorable Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, from the 49th District. Senator, welcome and thanks for joining us today.

Senator Tarrant: Thank you very much for having me, I appreciate your interest. It was a pleasure to have my staff call me and tell me you’re interested in speaking.

Fletch: You’ve got some interesting news that you have championed in Illinois. What is that?

Senator Tarrant: Correct, we have Senate Bill 3313, which looks at our 911 system and is influenced by what is known throughout the nation as Kari’s Law and what we have legislated. We’re just waiting for the governor to sign now… is that all of our businesses, in July of 2015, now are required to remove the prefix 9 or 7 or whatever, to get out of your system and just be able to dial 911. When in individual in a store, when an employee in a hotel now needs emergency – or a customer in a hotel from the room dials 911, it will go directly to our emergency system and not to an in-between person to then transfer them.

Fletch: That’s fantastic. Even though Kari’s Law was centered around an incident that happened last December in a hotel down in Marshall, Texas, the problem really goes wider than just hotel, motels, right, Senator? I mean it involves businesses or anybody with a PBX.

Senator Tarrant: It absolutely does. A store in the mall, you go to a big department store, you walk into a grocery store; a lot of those systems all have a dial out …. and offices …. all have dial out, so yeah, it stems from the hotel, but this really branches to all businesses.

Fletch: There’s legislation that does exist in Illinois. They were one of the early adopters. That legislation went into place back in the late ’90’s. Martha, you’ve read the legislation. Are there any provisions in there that make reference to the older legislation?

Martha Buyer: Only that this amends it and enhances it, that’s pretty much it. This is just a great step forward in refining policies and making new steps forward and making Illinois certainly a very much safer place.

Fletch: All of the location issues that were covered, the 40,000 square feet, all of that is still applicable then.

Martha Buyer: Absolutely, this is an enhancement to it, it doesn’t remove any of the other pieces.

Fletch: I think that’s really important, because what was lacking in the Illinois law and quite frankly, what was lacking in all of the state legislation that’s out there – there’s 18 states that have legislation – in my opinion, there were a couple of things that were lacking. One was the dial access to 911, whether you dial an access code or you could dial 911 directly. Obviously, Senator, you’ve fixed that problem with this legislation. The second piece that I understand that you also have addressed, is the compliance with the law, so there are some penalties that come into effect with this, as well. Isn’t that right?

Senator Tarrant: That is correct, yes. We do have a fine and in the language it says not less than $1,000, not more than $5,000. Again, it’s easy to say yeah, we’ll do it, but sometimes when you have that consequence, people are a little more willing to act faster. We wanted to make sure – I wanted to make sure – that our businesses knew that this is serious, this is not just something that looks good. We feel it’s important and it’s so important that if you do not comply, you will get a fine.

Fletch: This is the kind of legislation that really it’s your job to do this kind of stuff on behalf of your constituents. This is really what your job is about, to bring forward this kind of legislation.

Senator Tarrant: This is something you do. You do it in a bipartisan manner. It’s unfortunate that it was brought to my attention by such a tragedy, but this is a common sense type of issue.

Fletch: Absolutely. I was just out at a press conference on Long Island and a Suffolk County legislator, Rob Trotta, had the exact same words. Everyone at that press conference said this is just a no-brainer. The technology exists; there are some older systems out there that may be a challenge or two, but those are certainly the minority and we can always deal with that on a waiver or whatever. There are many, many different ways to deal with the minority, but the bulk of the systems out there can be just simply reprogrammed to allow this. That’s the travesty of the whole thing; it’s such a simple problem to fix, but we have to go to these lengths to raise the public awareness on it.

Martha Buyer: Senator, didn’t you say earlier that everyone in the State Senate is a co-sponsor?

Senator Tarrant: Yes, there’s 59 Senators. There are 59 Senators on that piece of legislation. I talked to each of them personally and it was a nice bipartisan for a change. 59 people were on that floor too, when we voted on it, which is unusual.

Fletch: Wait, wait a second, wait a second, you’re telling me you got 59 political figures to agree on something and vote?

Senator Tarrant: I got them all to agree. I talked to them and some of them saw on their own and they signed on and it just became you know what, we have to send a message here. This is something that shouldn’t happen, so yeah, each one of them is on that piece of legislation. Like you said, they were all on the floor when we voted on it.

Martha Buyer: Congratulations.

Senator Tarrant: Yeah, thank you.

Fletch: When are you going in the Guinness Book of World Records, because that’s got to be a record.

Senator Tarrant: (Laughs) I don’t know about that, but we were talking about it; it’s a tragedy, it’s sad we had to allow a tragedy to happen for us to wake up and say, hey, this is what is going on. It’s good piece of legislation. It provides public safety and you really can’t find too many people to complain about that.

Fletch: No, no, not at all. Senator, thank you so much for sitting down and talking with us about this. Thank you so much for sponsoring this. On behalf of the Hunts, thank you very much. I understand that they actually wrote a letter to your office.

Senator Tarrant: I was just going to end with that. Kari’s father sent a nice letter, sent me a Texas hug via email. I sent that letter on to the Governor to let him know that this is a good piece of legislation, please sign it right away and let us move forward.

Fletch: I hope that one day you get the opportunity to meet Hank Hunt, because he’s the most real, down to earth cowboy that you’re ever going to run into. The tragedy that he’s going through over this; at least things like this, we can show him that one man can make a difference. One voice can make a difference when it’s the right thing to do.

Senator Tarrant: You’re absolutely right. I agree with you 100%.

Fletch: Martha, thank you so much for doing the research on this that you have done. Once again, you are my legal superstar.

Martha Buyer: Thanks, Fletch, and thank you so much, Senator. it’s been a pleasure working with you and your staff.

Senator Tarrant: Thank you very much for your interest and good luck as you continue this work.

Fletch: Thank you very much, Senator, have a great day.