ATA: Legislation on Hold as Congress Shifts Focus

LAS VEGAS — Most bills on the federal level that could be damage the teleservices industry have been put on hold as lawmakers turn their attention to the threat of terrorism, the American Teleservices Association's legislative experts said yesterday at the association's18th Annual Convention & Exhibition.

For example, lawmakers are giving a new look to privacy regulations in light of last month's terrorist attacks, said Matt Mattingley, director of legislative affairs at the ATA. Terrorists hid under the traditional privacy protections afforded by the United States, and legislators are taking that into account when they consider privacy bills.

The ATA remains interested in competing bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate regulating caller-ID blocking. The House version, supported by the ATA, bans telemarketers only from affirmatively blocking caller ID, while the Senate version would force telemarketers to display their phone numbers on caller IDs regardless of possible technical challenges due to existing telecommunications technology.

Association members also are watching the moratorium on Internet taxation, which ends this month. Lawmakers could apply whatever philosophy they adopt on taxing Internet sales to all remote sellers, including telemarketers.

“It's just one step from the Internet to telemarketing,” Mattingley said.

The ATA remains vigilant, particularly on the state level, where several important bills affecting the telemarketing industry remain active. Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio still have legislation pending that would create do-not-call lists in those states.

The ATA is particularly interested in pending DNC bills in Pennsylvania and Michigan, where supporters are still actively pushing for passage, said Tyler Prochnow, the association's state legislative counsel. Association members cannot afford to lose focus even though progress on teleservices-related bills has slowed due to the disaster.

“Anybody with an interest in those states or a presence in those states can get involved in lobbying efforts,” Prochnow said. “We would appreciate your help.”

The ATA has tracked more than 220 bills affecting the teleservices industry on the state level this year, 18 of which have passed. Thirty-four states proposed DNC list bills this year, 22 of which failed, seven passed and one, in Illinois, was vetoed by the state's governor.

States that created DNC lists this year include California, Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Overall, 20 states now run DNC lists or require use of the Direct Marketing Association's Telephone Preference Service.

The Missouri attorney general's office has been particularly active in enforcing its DNC list this year, filing 10 to 15 cases per week, Prochnow said. He advised ATA members who receive complaints from Missouri to ask the state for every piece of information about their case possible because of evidence of some possible inconsistencies in Missouri's DNC list.

There is some cause for alarm at California's passage of a predictive-dialer bill earlier this year that prohibits abandoned calls. The California legislation originally had some support from the ATA because it included an exemption for companies that play a recorded message explaining the purpose of the call when abandoned calls occur, similar to an existing Kansas law.

The exemption was removed near the end of California's legislative session without warning, angering teleservices industry members. Prochnow warned that the bill's passage could encourage other states to seek similar legislation.

Iowa is currently considering a zero-percent abandonment rate bill, while Connecticut lawmakers are seeking an outright ban on predictive dialers. The AARP, an association for seniors, has supported such legislation on the complaint that senior citizens are frightened by abandoned calls.

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