*DM Issues Await Action in Congress

Direct marketers will spend the next week watching Congress closely as the 106th session is scheduled to close Friday.

Nonprofit mailers, in particular, are watching Congress nervously and hoping bills get passed quickly, especially two that would grant them postal relief and would counteract increases in the U.S. Postal Service's proposed rate case.

The Nonprofit Rate Relief Act, H.R. 4636, was introduced by Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-PA, ranking minority member of the House Subcommittee on the Postal Service. The bill is virtually the same as S. 2686, introduced by Sens. Thad Cochran, R-MS; Daniel K. Akaka and Daniel Inouye, both D-HI; Richard Durbin, D-IL; and Joseph Lieberman, D-CT. Cochran is chairman and Akaka is ranking minority member of the Senate Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services.

The bills aim to:

• Set nonprofit periodical rates and other preferred rates at 95 percent of the counterpart commercial rate. As a result, nonprofit mailers would receive a 5 percent discount from the commercial rate, excluding the advertising portion.

• Set the revenue-per-piece for nonprofit Standard-A mail to reflect a 40 percent discount on the revenue-per-piece for commercial Standard-A mail.

The bills stipulate that nonprofit rates would always be a percentage of commercial rates — the two categories would always be compiled and counted together — which nonprofits think would greatly improve the reliability of USPS data and may eventually lower their rates.

The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs cleared S. 2686 for full Senate floor consideration last week, and the Senate is likely to take up the measure under the “unanimous consent” calendar this week. By the middle of this week, insiders say, the House will take up the bill, and after a short conference the bill may be signed into law.

This legislation must be passed before Congress adjourns so it can be given to the Postal Rate Commission in time to be incorporated into the current rate case. Unless the legislation passes both chambers of Congress and is signed into law before the scheduled recess, nonprofit rates will be set by the PRC under current law. If this happens, nonprofit rates may increase by double digits, with some rates increasing as much as 48 percent.

Another bill DMers are watching is S. 4690, the appropriations bill of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary. This bill includes an amendment introduced by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-NH, that prohibits displaying Social Security numbers on the Internet to the general public for commercial purposes without consent. The amendment was added this summer to the appropriations bill and will probably be passed this session.

Another bill that may be passed this session is an anti-spam bill, H.R. 3113, the Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Act of 2000. The bill, which was co-sponsored by Reps. Gene Green, D-TX, Heather Wilson, R-NM, and Gary Miller, R-CA, is designed to protect consumers and Internet service providers from unsolicited commercial e-mail flooding their e-mail accounts. The House passed the bill by a 427-1 vote this summer.

H.R. 3113 would place several restrictions on e-mail marketers, including requiring that commercial e-mail messages have valid reply addresses; that marketers take consumers' names off mailing lists when asked; and that commercial e-mails be labeled as such.

The bill also would allow Internet service providers and consumers to petition the Federal Trade Commission for cease-and-desist orders and would protect state laws that allow consumers to sue spammers.

Financial penalties would start at $500 per violation but could not exceed $50,000. However, if a judge found that a company committed excessive violations, the sum could rise to as much as $150,000.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

Mailers, however, are pretty certain that H.R. 22, the Postal Modernization Act, sponsored by Rep. John McHugh, R-NY, chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Postal Service, will not be passed this session. The bill is designed to give the U.S. Postal Service more freedom to manage its business and to establish rules to ensure fair competition.

The bill, which has been debated in the postal and direct marketing communities for six years, will probably die because McHugh must step down, since he has served as chairman for three terms, the congressional limit.

While the congressional session is scheduled to end Friday, insiders said that since Congress has work to do — only two of the 13 appropriations bills have become law as of press time — it may extend its schedule until Oct. 13. It also may have to resort to a lame-duck session after the November elections and finish its votes at that time. Any bill that does not become law by the end of this session will die, and if its author is re-elected, he or she will have to reintroduce it in January.

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