Thursday, March 07, 2002

Patton touts new law to ban phone annoyance

Telemarketers required to heed 'no call' list

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Gov. Paul Patton signed into law Wednesday a bill meant to shield people from unwanted telephone sales pitches.

        With his signature, Mr. Patton joined the bandwagon of politicians who embraced legislation sought by older Kentuckians.

        Members of the influential AARP flocked into the Capitol Rotunda and applauded after Mr. Patton signed the measure. Politicians from both parties flanked Mr. Patton, including prospective candidates for governor in 2003.

        “A person's home is their castle,” Mr. Patton said. “The opportunity to enjoy your home unmolested, unaggravated is one of the great American rights and privileges we have.”

        Mr. Patton said unwanted telemarketing calls amount to an intrusion.

        “I want to tell you I believe that I've got the absolute right to decide who uses my phone, and who calls me,” he said. “And this will give all of us an opportunity to do that.”

Don't call me

        The measure will allow people to join a strict “zero-call” list maintained by the attorney general's office.

        People on the list are supposed to be left alone by telemarketers, with a few exceptions. Solicitors could call past or present customers on the list, or people who give permission to contact them. Calls to collect debts would be allowed, as would calls from one business to another.

        Attorney General Ben Chandler hopes to have his office ready to sign up people for the zero-call list when the law takes effect in mid-July, said his spokeswoman, Barbara Hadley Smith.

        Members of Mr. Chandler's staff were in Missouri on Wednesday — just two days after the bill's final passage — to review how that state has implemented its tough anti-telemarketing law, she said.

        The attorney general's office also would spearhead efforts to punish telemarketers who improperly contact people on the zero-call list.

        Violators would face fines reaching $5,000 for the first two offenses. The penalty would stiffen to a felony for subsequent violations within a year, carrying a possible prison sentence

List exists now

        Rep. Buddy Buckingham, the bill's lead sponsor, said it accomplished his goal of protecting people from being interrupted at home without causing undue hardships on businesses that rely on telephone sales.

        The attorney general's office already maintains a no-call list. That law is riddled with so many exemptions it's been deemed ineffective.

        That no-call list has signed up 133,000 people, Ms. Smith said. The attorney general's office has been adding at least 1,000 people daily to the list in recent days as public attention on the issue grew, she said.

        Mr. Chandler hopes to automatically add the people on the no-call list to the zero-call list when it takes effect, Ms. Smith said.

        Mr. Buckingham said he expected the zero-call list to grow substantially, but the number will still represent a fraction of the state's population.

Sellers concerned

        Mr. Buckingham said he has gotten calls from merchants worried that the bill's restrictions would hurt their businesses.

        Mr. Buckingham said businesses will still be allowed to make sales calls, but will need to check the zero-call list before contacting people. That list will be available for free on the Internet.

        “It's just going to require them to do a better job with their marketing planning,” said Mr. Buckingham, a Democrat from Murray.

        The bill does not cover charities, Mr. Buckingham said. Nor does it cover nonprofit organizations. That would allow a university to continue calling alumni, even if on the list, to seek donations.


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