Fremont senator proposes a
‘do-not-call’ list for state
SACRAMENTO – A California lawmaker is making another attempt to help consumers hang up on pesky telemarketers before they call.
State Sen. Liz Figueroa, D-Fremont, has reintroduced a bill that would let consumers put their phone numbers on a telemarketers’ do-not-call list that would be maintained by the state.
A telemarketer who called a number on the list could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Two attempts to create the list have died in the Senate Appropriations Committee since 1996. One of those unsuccessful bills was a 1999 proposal by Figueroa opposed by some of the Capitol’s most influential interest groups, including newspaper publishers, real estate agents and insurers.
This time, Figueroa predicts, the chances are better.
“I think more and more people are affected, and more and more people are concerned about privacy issues,” she said.
Her bill is modeled after a 10-year-old Florida statute.
“It’s kind of like hanging up a do-not-disturb sign on your home telephone,” said Terence McElroy of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
About 125,000 Floridians have their numbers on the do-not-call list and about a dozen other states have enacted similar laws since the Florida program took effect, McElroy said.
Current federal law requires telemarketing companies to honor the do-not-call requests they receive from consumers, and the Direct Marketing Association maintains a list of off-limits consumers for member companies.
But not all telemarketers are association members, supporters of Figueroa’s bill say.
Her legislation would give consumers a “one-swoop opportunity” to eliminate unwanted sales calls, said Shelley Curran, a policy analyst with Consumers Union.
“We think consumers ought to have control over whether they get solicited by telemarketers,” Curran said. “A lot of people find the calls very frustrating.”
Jim Ewert, an attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said the federal law is better because it gives consumers “the ultimate power to pick and choose from whom they want to receive solicitations.”
“People still have the ability to hang up or erase the message from the answering machine,” Ewert said. “You just never know when there may be something you would be interested in (buying).”
Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, a San Francisco Democrat who cast a key vote to kill the 1999 bill, said the measure was “not a pro-consumer thing; it’s a stop-pestering-me bill.”
“As I recall it was kind of a silly bill,” Burton said. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to work and there was a question of how constitutional it was. Can’t people just hang up?”
McElroy said no one has ever challenged the Florida law’s constitutionality in court.
Figueroa’s bill would cover telephone salespersons trying to sell or lease goods or services, including credit, investments and insurance. It would not cover calls requested by the consumer or debt-collection calls.
Consumers could exempt businesses with which they have a financial relationship, including their banks, insurance agents and investment advisers.
The bill would allow prosecutors and consumers to sue a telemarketing firm for allegedly violating the do-not-call requirement. Courts could order violators to pay up to $500 for a first offense and up to $1,000 for a subsequent one, plus the plaintiff’s attorneys fees.
Violators could also be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
So far the bill doesn’t specify which state agency would maintain the don’t-call list, keep it updated and sell it to telemarketers for a fee. The designated agency would set up procedures for consumers to remove their names from the list.