*Congress Weighs Telemarketing Bills as 106th Session Closes

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Pending legislation has the telemarketing industry watching closely to see if bills are passed in the frenzy that typically characterizes the final days of a congressional session. The session is expected to end Oct. 13.

The most prominent proposal, the Know Your Caller Act, would prohibit telemarketers from blocking caller ID during solicitations. The House of Representatives voted 420-0 on the act last month, but the Senate has yet to vote on its version.

Both the Direct Marketing Association and the American Teleservices Association support the act's main premise, which is to punish telemarketers who willingly hide their phone numbers from caller ID devices. However, the organizations are concerned about certain provisions of the act that could prove detrimental to telemarketers.

Neither the DMA nor the ATA considers the legislation dead despite the conclusion of Congress' current 106th session.

"It's the end of a session," said Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs at the DMA. "It's a zoo. You're never sure."

While the House version of the act makes an exception for call centers that cannot display their phone numbers on caller ID devices due to technological reasons, the Senate version makes no such stipulation. Instead, the Senate bill gives telemarketers two years to upgrade their phone technology.

But the technology problems that inadvertently block caller ID generally lie with the phone companies that serve call centers, not the telemarketers, the ATA said.

"Basically, you're punishing both the reputable telemarketers and those that are fraudulent," said Jason Todd, communications manager at the ATA.

Another objection to the Senate legislation concerns a provision that would prohibit marketers from sending direct mail pieces to consumers who ask to be placed on do-not-call lists. Under the Senate version, marketers could not use names and phone numbers of those on DNC lists for any marketing purpose.

In addition to the Know Your Caller Act, another bill, proposed by Rep. Matt Salmon, R-AZ, would force telemarketers to tell consumers during each sales call about their right to be placed on a DNC list. Making it mandatory to disclose the right to be placed on a DNC list during a sales call amounts to forcing telemarketers to issue a Miranda rights-like warning with each call, the ATA said.

"There's already safeguards built in," Todd said. "It's ridiculous to have to tell everybody when you're calling them, right before you sell them anything, 'You don't have to listen to me.' "

If the Senate passes its version of the Know Your Caller Act, a committee of both chambers would work out differences between the two versions of the bill, including the amount of civil penalties that could be imposed. The House version would allow up to $500 per violation while the Senate version would allow up to $5,000 per violation.

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