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Assemblyman Rudy Salas. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Public Safety Dispatchers Would be Reclassified as First Responders Under New Bill

AB 1945 may encounter an unforeseen issue as committees for the bill are set

By Evan Symon, February 1, 2020 8:27 am

A new bill that would change the occupational status of public safety dispatchers to ‘first responders’ was placed in the Governmental Organization and the Public Employment and Retirement Committees on Thursday, the first steps on the road to getting signed into law.

Assembly Bill 1945, authored by Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), would change the occupational status of dispatchers away from the official federal status. Currently, dispatchers are listed as “administrative/clerical” occupations.

Supporters of the bill have said that the change is long overdue, as public safety dispatchers undergo extensive training for their position. Supporters also argue that dispatchers are the first to receive calls and save lives due to quick actions and knowing what to do, much like current first responders such as police officers, firefighters, and paramedics.

“It is an honor to officially recognize the incredible work of our public safety dispatchers,” said Assemblyman Salas at a press conference at the State Capitol last week formally announcing the bill. “Dispatchers are vital to keeping our communities safe. When a hostage taker or a suicidal person calls 911, the first individual they speak with is often a dispatcher whose negotiation skills can save lives.”

While AB 1945 is already gaining bipartisan support with no known opposition, problems may arise with the bill during the Committee meetings and votes in the coming months.

“Other states have already passed similar laws,” said Billy Campbell, a former police officer from Texas who tried to stop similar legislation from being passed in Texas in 2019. “The federal government hasn’t stepped in yet, even though it’s going against the federal definition.”

“Right now a lot of eyes are on California and the laws it’s trying to pass, particularly from Washington. They’ve gone against a lot of state changes, including that big car pollution thing,” said Campbell referencing the current lawsuit battle between California and the EPA over California having it’s own car emissions standards. “I thought they might challenge Texas over the first responders bill, but if it’s anyone, it’s going to be California. Even on an issue like first responders, they could try to nationwide standards over everything again.”

“I’ve never claimed dispatchers don’t deserve this. I certainly didn’t say anything like that in Austin. But states need to be smart about how they do this. If California passes it, it may catch they eye of the federal government, and it may knock it down for everyone.”

Despite the concerns of Campbell and Californians who share the same concerns, other states have passed reclassification laws without a hitch, including New Jersey and Texas, with the U.S. Congress even considering a similar bill for federal reclassification.

AB 1945 faces Assembly Committees in the next few months and is widely expected to be passed and signed into law later this year.

Evan Symon
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