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April 2009 | Volume 27 / Number 11
On The Line

Legislative Update

By Tim Searcy
CEO, American Teleservices Association

Springtime and the smell of fresh ink in state houses all over America fills the air… and notices fill my e-mail. It is true that each spring, legislators across the country begin to put their legislative agendas into motion, which means crafting new legislation or dusting off old bills and resubmitting them for consideration. As the lobbying arm for the teleservices industry, this is a busy time for us.

As a part of our process, we attempt to triage and prioritize hundreds of bills that are submitted to state and federal legislative bodies. Although bills can be submitted at any time, the beginning of a new legislative session brings an onslaught of bills to consider. For that reason, the American Teleservices Association has developed a simple rubric for classifying and responding to legislation as it is entered into the collective system.

The ATA uses a scale similar to Homeland Security with the threat level depicted in decreasing severity from red and orange to the lower threat bills in yellow, green and blue. Three factors impact the score of a bill including: importance to the business interests; likelihood to pass; and speed of the bill moving through the process. If a bill is of modest interest, or is unlikely to pass, it will receive a low score and therefore fewer resources are used to fight the bill. However, if a bill has significant impacts to the industry and has a good likelihood of passing and or is possibly being "fast-tracked," the ATA will pull out all stops and use all its resources and members to combat or change the legislation. ATA members know from experience that the landscape is fluid and priorities are evaluated weekly, sometimes hourly.

By the time you read this article, some of the bills addressed below will be passed, some modified, some removed, and most will still be languishing. Additionally, we know that new legislation will also be introduced. However, although legislative change is a constant, another constant which seems to exist is topic. The legislation out there tends to be in the same area year after year with only occasional departures from the obvious.

Political Calling: It comes as some surprise to my jaded mind that politicians actually contemplate reducing, restricting or eliminating their own powerful tool of telemarketing. However, at the federal level and state level, legislation has been proposed to do just that. In the U.S. House, HR 116 would add political calls to the national Do Not Call registry. A variety of solutions from banning automated calls to opt-in lists for political messages have been created in CT, KY, MI, MO, and NY.

Calling Hours: Reducing calling hours and adjusting available days for outbound calls is a perennial favorite for some politicians. In the House, there is a bill that would eliminate outbound calls between 5:00 and 7:00 PM. We see this every year, and it does not go anywhere, but we pay attention every time. Oklahoma has proposed legislation which would eliminate calls on Sunday.

Caller Identification: A U.S. Senate bill would make it illegal to manipulate caller identification, which is something we support. Oklahoma has a deal that would make it illegal to block caller identification, which already exists in federal law.

Cell Phones: We all know that it is illegal to use a predictive dialer or other automated dialing solutions to contact a cell phone. However, in states like AK, MO and NY, policy makers would like to reinforce this law by either expanding their state DNC list to incorporate cellular devices or by making all commercial calls to cell phones illegal. Business Application of DNC: One of the more threatening and onerous concepts to be put forward is to allow businesses to put their numbers on the DNC registry for a state. This has not been proposed federally yet, but we are monitoring the situation closely. In CT, FL, IN, PA and TN, legislation has been proposed to allow companies (in some cases it depends upon company size), to place their organization’s phone number on the state DNC.

Disclosures: There are many varieties of laws that consider new disclosures that must be made at the beginning of an outbound call, or in some cases and inbound call. Each rule is different. In Illinois, the legislation would force a company to state at the beginning of the call the company, individual and the entity placing the call. On Pre-recorded message calls that are legal, a company would have to provide an immediate opt out to a live operator. Missouri would like to place a "paid for by..." requirement in as disclosed information for all political calling. Finally, in Oklahoma, we are seeing renewed interest in having the fundraising entities state what percentage of contributions will be retained by the solicitor in each call.

The ATA keeps track of all this legislation, and if you have questions or comments, you can reach either Josh Scism or myself at [email protected] or [email protected] respectively. These proposed measures change regularly, and I will try to keep you informed.

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