Sunday, December 02, 2001

New try for telemarketing limits

Democrats' plan creates 'zero call' list for seniors

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Kentucky residents could block most calls from telemarketers under bills Democrats have filed in the Kentucky General Assembly.

        With backing from Attorney General Ben Chandler, also a Democrat, and a leading senior citizens group, Democrats hope to see the measures adopted when lawmakers begin meeting in Frankfort in January.

        “This will be the fourth try attempting to get something through the legislature,” Mr. Chandler said last week. “We've gotten one bill through, but it was gutted in the Senate.

        “But this is something that not only the public wants very much, but it's very compelling as a consumer protection issue,” he said. “Elderly Kentuckians are targeted like you would not believe.”

        Last week Sen. Marshall Long, D-Shelbyville, and Rep. Robert “Buddy” Buckingham, D-Murray, filed bills that would cut down if not eliminate telemarketing calls in Kentucky.

        One proposal will establish a “zero call” list for people 65 and older who do not want to receive any telemarketing calls, except those they have specifically requested to receive.

        The alternate proposal would dramatically reduce the number of exceptions to the existing telemarketing restrictions.

        “We want Kentuckians everywhere to know the Senate Democrats hear their message loud and clear,” Mr. Long said.

        Senate Republicans have not commented publicly on the bills. But some members of the GOP have complained in the past that Kentucky cannot attempt to restrict the interstate commerce of telemarketing.

        Mr. Chandler said interstate commerce charges have not been raised in more than a dozen other states that restrict the times and calls that can be made by telemarketers.

        “That's not a good argument,” he said. “People don't want these calls and it's time we did something to help them.”

        Sixteen states have legislation restricting telemarketing calls, including Indiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas and New York, Mr. Chandler said.

        “Do Not Call” legislation allows consumers to voluntarily have their telephone listed on a database administered by the state. Telemarketing firms are then required to purchase the list and remove consumers on the list.

        Contacting someone on the list is a violation of the Consumer Protection Act, and carries a fine of up to $2,000.

        The Kentucky legislature passed a law in 1998 that ostensibly enabled people to put themselves on a “no call” list. But Mr. Chandler said the bill was “watered down” with 22 exemptions and 95 percent of telemarketing calls still get through even to those on the “no call” list.

        “We need to put some teeth in the law,” said House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green. “I think we'll get that in the House but I'm not so sure in the Senate.”

        Mr. Richards was instrumental in getting the bill through the House in the 2001 session, Mr. Chandler said.

        But also in the session, Frank Shoop, a lobbyist for telemarketers, warned that the restrictions could eliminate telemarketing jobs across Kentucky, an argument that probably will help kill the bill in the Senate. Mr. Shoop said at the time that the industry employs 69,753 people in Kentucky. He said many people might find such calls inconvenient, but he called it a “small price to pay” for people to keep their jobs.

        Mr. Chandler said the bills filed last week, which his office drafted, allow some exceptions. Exempted groups would include schools, nonprofit organizations, charities, real estate brokers and small merchants.

        “You don't see scams and rip-offs from them like you can with some of these national telemarketing companies,” he said.

       The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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