Thursday, May 8, 2003

Telemarketing bill advances

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Attorneys would not be able to file class-action lawsuits against companies for making illegal telemarketing calls, under changes being pushed for a bill meant to crack down on telemarketers.

Highlights of a bill approved by the Ohio Senate Wednesday to make it easier to block telemarketers' calls:
• Requires the Ohio attorney general to provide a "Do Not Call" registry for residential telephone users.
• Requires telephone solicitors to pay a fee to obtain a copy of a state-maintained list.
• Prohibits a telephone solicitor from making a call outside the hours of 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
• Requires a telephone solicitor to identify within 60 seconds of a call the solicitor's name, company and services or goods being offered.
Source: Legislative Service Commission
The Ohio Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved the bill even as Senate President Doug White said the legislation is incomplete unless it bans the class-action lawsuits.

He said he'll push for the change in the House.

Democrats joined Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate to vote 32-1 in favor of the bill. Sen. Lynn Wachtmann, a Republican from Napoleon who voted 'no,' said the bill was bad for small businesses and consumers.

If consumers really didn't want companies to call, telemarketers wouldn't bother them "because there wouldn't be the demand," Wachtmann said.

The bill goes now to the House, where similar legislation died last year. This version is expected to have more support since it mirrors a recently passed federal law.

The bill approved Wednesday would permit Ohioans who register their phone numbers on a "Do Not Call" list to sue companies for illegally placing telemarketing calls. They could receive up to $200 in damages from a business.

A class-action lawsuit potentially could be more damaging to a company because it would involve complaints by several consumers, and the financial penalties could be much higher.

White said he supports the right of individuals to sue but is concerned about attorneys filing group actions.

Lawmakers want to "break that cycle" of annoying calls, "but we don't want to try to unleash the legal system on these guys in huge class-action ways," said White, a Republican from Manchester in southern Ohio.

Attorney General Jim Petro said lawmakers should address concerns over class-action lawsuits.

The goal is "to make sure that we're not going to have an abundance of somewhat abusive class-action lawsuits that result from those who might unintentionally violate 'Do Not Call,' " Petro said Wednesday.

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