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Senate Passes Bill to Prevent State Agencies from Installing ‘900’ Lines

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Senate has approved legislation that would prohibit fiscally stressed state agencies, acting on their own, from raising money by installing “900” telephone numbers and selling road conditions and other information to the public.

The bill’s author, Sen. Lucy Killea (D-San Diego), said a trend is developing among some state departments to help offset budget cuts by acquiring the “information access numbers” and charging fees for the data.

Unlike a toll-free “800” telephone call, a “900” call costs the customer a toll charge and an information message fee.

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For years, the state Department of Transportation has operated a special winter road condition information telephone service from its Sacramento headquarters. The information is free, although long-distance callers must pay a toll charge.

Killea said the transportation department is on the verge of making the free information available for a charge statewide through “900” lines. “The word is spreading like wildfire through the bureaucracy that this is a good way to get money,” Killea said.

The bill was opposed by Pacific Bell, whose representatives have complained that a prohibition of “900” services would deny customers an alternative way of getting information from the state government.

The bill, which was sent to the Assembly on Thursday on a 21-13 vote, the bare majority required in the 40-member Senate, would prohibit state agencies from obtaining “900” numbers unless given permission by the Legislature.

The only exception contained in the bill was the California Lottery, which operates “900” lines and earmarks its share of the fee for support of schools. An aide to Killea said she agreed to the lottery exception as the price of winning approval of the Energy and Public Utilities Committee.

The aide said committee members viewed “900” calls by players checking their lottery numbers as a “frill” and not public information to be provided without cost.

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