Legislature Passes Lowenthal’s Urgency Bill to Save Emergency Radio System

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 L.A. County's emergency radio plans

Photo by Gerry Prevost

Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal, the Legislature’s point-person on emergency management, writes bill to protect $270 million in federal grants for a first-responder emergency radio system.Almost 10 years to the day after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and just hours after power returned to San Diego, the Legislature on Friday paved the way for a radio network that will keep Los Angeles County’s first-responders talking even when other communication systems are down.

Assembly Bill 924, by Long Beach Democrat Bonnie Lowenthal, essentially gives Los Angeles County officials a do-over on the contracts for the massive new system. The original contract to get the system built had to be tossed out after attorneys conceded it was improperly drafted.

In response, the Legislature whisked AB 924 through a process that can take all year in just a matter of weeks.

“There was no way we were giving up a great public safety tool just because someone forgot to dot their i’s or cross their t’s,” said Lowenthal, who chairs the Joint Committee on Emergency Management. “Federal money isn’t so easy to come by these days, and we can’t afford to let this get away.

If Assembly Bill 946 had not passed before midnight Friday, county officials would likely have missed the federal deadline to begin construction of the dedicated radio network that will link the region’s 34,000 first-responders spread among 50 public safety agencies.

“This puts us in a much better position,” said Patrick Mallon, executive director of LA-RICS, the joint-powers authority tasked with building the system. “It vastly enhances our ability to fully utilize the grant funds.”

Initial efforts to build the federally funded system came to a halt recently when the county’s own lawyers conceded they had failed to fully comply with state contract laws in the way they had written their plans. Lowenthal’s bill clarifies existing law, and specifically authorizes the county to move forward on the project. As an urgency measure, the bill would become law as soon as the governor signs it, which would allow county officials to begin construction in time to avoid returning money to Washington.

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