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February 1999

Increased State Legislation - A Call To Action


"The best time to build relationships with elected officials is when there is no crisis," said Connie Williams, a member of the House of Representatives, when addressing the recent American TeleServices Association's Second Annual Pennsylvania Legislative Conference in Harrisburg.

Besides Williams, this recommendation was echoed throughout the two-day session by every speaker, including Joseph Loeper, Majority Leader of the Senate, Senator Joseph Uliana, Vice-Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Committee, Senator Jack Wagner, Minority Chair of the Judiciary Committee and several representatives from the Attorney General's office.

Teleservices is a regulated industry and outbound calling continues to draw ire from consumers. It's no wonder that politicians, uneducated in the gross national product we deliver and the millions of jobs we create, latch onto issues and author or cosponsor bills that are "appealing" in the eyes of their constituents.

The new direction in Washington seems to be aimed at pushing legislation back to the states, therefore it is important that we pay closer attention to our local officials. During the 1998 session, over 325 bills affecting teleservices were introduced in the state Houses across the Nation. The subjects of these proposals included completely eliminating telemarketing within and into a particular state, curtailing calling after 6:00 pm, establishing a state do-not-call list, instituting a no rebuttal rule and requiring telemarketing representatives to state at the beginning that they will make a sales presentation and asking if they may continue. If permission is not given, they are to terminate the contact. This frightening list is extensive. While most of these measures never became law, it is a trend that will only increase.

In addition, legislative action at the state level is usually swift and often it is too late to establish, let alone cultivate, relationships with lawmakers before permanent damage is done.

Two years ago, when the first Pennsylvania Conference was being organized, there were no key legislative issues under consideration. However, one week before the actual event, an amendment to a bill eliminating the two-party consent requirement to monitor was abruptly defeated, thus placing an entirely different focus on the gathering. Because the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives and the Attorney General were already scheduled as keynote speakers, we were able to establish a rapport that eventually led to the introduction of another bill which returned us to a one-party state.

Getting to know your elected officials "back home" is critical for the future of our industry. Visiting them in their local offices or, better still, extending invitations to them to visit your call center and see your operation are excellent first steps. Meeting with them in their state offices further demonstrates your willingness and determination to "travel the extra mile" to carry our message to their doorsteps.

Further, it's important to get to know party leaders - those in ranking positions who control whether or not certain bills are considered in committee or even get out to the floor for a vote. The best way to accomplish this, on the state level, is to organize an annual or biannual legislative conference in the capital city with party leaders invited as keynote and panel speakers. Part of every conference should be constituent visits to individual legislative offices.

At the Federal level, all the organizational work is done for you - just attend the ATA's 1999 Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., April 27-29, 1999. Remember what the legislators said about starting to build relationships when there are no pressing issues. At least for now, there aren't any at the national level and this couldn't be a better time. Let's make this a banner year for attendance and take the model of this gathering back home and start the ball rolling for a state session in your own back yard.

Art Saxon, president of TeleStar Marketing, Inc., with inbound/outbound call centers in Media and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was chairman of the ATA's first two Pennsylvania State Legislative Conferences in 1997 and 1998. For more information, call 610-891-7100.

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