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States Embracing Do-Not-Call Lists

Spring is a great time of year. The days stay lighter a little longer; the air is a little warmer. My children seem to be a little happier. Baseball is back; hockey’s real season has started. And most of the state legislatures are deep into their 2000 session.

Now is the time when most legislation either crosses that threshold from “interesting idea” to “popular concept” or flounders and dies in some nondescript committee. As usual, there is no shortage of interesting ideas aimed at further regulation of the telemarketing industry.

The most politically charged — and popular — regulatory initiative at the state level these days is the state-administered do-not-call list. Entering 2000, eight states had enacted such lists. Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Oregon and Tennessee all offer their citizens the opportunity to register for a list that certain telemarketing companies must purchase and then avoid calling the phone numbers on that list.

This year, at least 25 additional states have introduced legislation seeking to develop similar do-not-call systems: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Now, we’ve devoted a lot of coverage in the past to the probable constitutional deficiencies of these lists. I think it is unconstitutional for states to require out-of-state telemarketers to subscribe to these do-not-call databases. That opinion along with the obvious negative impact these databases will have on job creation and economic growth are enough of an argument against their passage. But now that we are starting to get some empirical data on these databases, there also are some common sense reasons for legislators to vote “no.”

Even supporters of the list acknowledge that there are some significant expenses involved in the initial creation and implementation of such a database. The proponents of the list argue that the overwhelming support of the public requires the creation of the DNC system. They often cite the incredible rush of people to sign up for the Georgia list when it went into effect in January 1999. However, more than a year later, just over 180,000 individuals have signed up for the Georgia list. I am no math genius, but the calculator function on my computer says the 180,000 residents on the list represents less than 3 percent of the 7 million residents in Georgia.

I am no policy guru either, but it seems a little frivolous for these states to be spending all this time and money on a program that will be used by 2.5 percent of the population. We have a lot of pressing issues that affect large majorities of our citizens, which is where our state governments should be focusing their time and attention.

Other than the state do-not-call lists, several states have introduced significant regulatory measures in 2000:

In Alabama, Senate Bill 521 would require a telecommunications provider to obtain a postcard verification from a consumer authorizing a switch in the consumer’s telecommunications provider.

In Georgia, House Bill 69 would prohibit the recording of telemarketing calls for any reason.

In Idaho, Senate Bill 1547 would permit telephone solicitations to only consumers who have indicated a willingness to receive them in the telephone directory.

Iowa House Bill 2246 would prohibit the use of predictive dialers if there are not enough live operators to answer all calls.

Kansas House Bill 2784 would ban all telephone solicitations to residential telephone numbers.

Michigan House Bill 5455 would require telephone solicitors to disclose do-not-call requirements to consumers.

New Jersey Senate Bill 1113 would prohibit energy suppliers from soliciting residential customers by telephone.

In Tennessee, one bill would prohibit telecommunications companies from providing service to companies that block caller-ID during telephone solicitations.

The following laws have been passed by their respective legislatures and signed by the governor in the relevant state:

Delaware now requires registration and a $50,000 bond for certain telemarketing companies.

Maine requires new record keeping practices for automatic dialer calls that use prerecorded outbound messages and places certain restrictions on the receipt of payment for the sale of goods or services by telephone.

Idaho created a state-run do-not-call list.

Washington now restricts certain exchanges of personal information for marketing practices.

Wyoming created a state-run do-not-call list.

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