Senate budget could nix troubled statewide radio network contract

Bizar Male

The Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System has been due for an update for years, but for every step forward, the project has taken two steps back.

SLERS is a unified digital radio network used by state law enforcement officers and other participating agencies throughout the state.

The main holdup has been a treacherous procurement process. Motorola won the contract to build out a next-generation SLERS three years ago this month, but competitor L3Harris brought an immediate legal challenge.

L3Harris built out the current iteration of SLERS. It hasn’t aged well, often dropping calls. Even so, the company formerly known as Harris Corp. effectively took its ball and headed home by saying it wouldn’t allow another vendor to use its towers.

Mired in the courts, the project’s deadline came and went. By mid-2020, Motorola and the Florida Department of Management Services went their separate ways. The Senate, however, directed DMS to resolve the tower troubles and gave them the option to renew the Motorola contract so the project could avoid another reboot.

Almost a year later … and no dice.

Now, the SLERS project may be dead. At least the Senate has shown it’s willing to take that step.

The current year budget set aside about $21.6 million for SLERS contract payments. The line item has been scratched out in the Senate’s newly unveiled appropriations bill for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Meanwhile, a budget amendment has been filed that would reauthorize the SLERS funding mechanism.

Currently, SLERS is funded through a $1 fee tacked on to vehicle registrations. The SLERS contract is estimated to be worth around $18 million a year; the balance of the collections goes to DMS to fund support staff to run the system. The fee was set to expire when the 2021-22 budget year begins on July 1. SB 2510 would push the sunset date back five years.

Side-by-side, the scratch-out and fee renewal send a mixed message. But Senate President Wilton Simpson said the move shows the chamber is willing to play hardball.

“The bill is an indication that the Senate is hopeful a reasonable conclusion can be reached. But, the Senate is not going to negotiate under duress at the expense of our hardworking law enforcement officers and Florida taxpayers,” he told Florida Politics.

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