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Bill creates state ‘do not call’ list for telemarketers

The Associated Press
Wednesday August 22, 2001

SACRAMENTO — You get them, even politicians get them – those annoying telemarketing calls selling anything from long distance to siding, right when you sit down to dinner. 

California consumers could put their names on a new state list to never again get those calls under a bill approved Tuesday by an Assembly committee. 

The “do not call” bill by Sen. Liz Figueroa, D-Fremont, is a revived version of one she has attempted to pass several times. Her most recent attempt stalled in a Senate committee last spring. 

It is one of two bills moving through the Legislature in its final weeks aimed at putting curbs on the telemarketers everyone hates more than traffic. The other bill, pending on the Senate floor, is aimed at “dead air” calls you get when telemarketers use automatic mass-dialing machines to save money. It would prohibit use of such machines unless a live person or recorded message is immediately ready when you answer. 

The committee spent nearly three hours Tuesday on Figueroa’s bill, as a long line of groups representing real estate and insurance agents, telephone and cable companies, newspapers and telemarketers sought changes and exemptions. 

It finally was approved by a 7-3 vote, although several lawmakers who voted for it said it still needs work. Figueroa agreed to continue changing it. 

The committee chairman, Assemblyman Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, said he would block the bill from final passage this year if he doesn’t like the changes made. 

The bill would require the state Department of Consumer Affairs to maintain a list of telephone numbers, without names and addresses, of Californians who do not want to receive unsolicited telephone calls. Both regular and cellular numbers would be on the list. 

Companies that make telephone solicitations would have to buy that list and could not call anyone on it. The cost of the list is one of the items still undetermined. Companies that call someone on the list could be subject to a civil complaint brought by the consumer that could cost $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses. 

Businesses with an “established” relationship, such as a previous purchase, could call people on the list, but their affiliated companies could not. 

About two dozen other states have similar laws. New York’s list has 1.8 million households. 

The bill will help consumers, who are constantly plagued with “intrusive telephone calls,” said Lenny Goldberg of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. 

Several committee members mentioned their own experiences. 

Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, said he screens his calls at home with an answering machine because he usually gets five telemarketing calls a night. 

“It drives me crazy and I’m glad to see this bill,” he said. 

However, representatives of several groups claimed they were not the real problem and asked for exemptions from the bill. 

Real estate agents said they don’t make enough calls to come under the bill, while cable television and long-distance telephone companies said the bill could hamper competition with giant phone companies that have most Californians as customers already. 

The California Newspaper Publishers Association also sought an exemption, saying 43 percent of new subscriptions come through telephone solicitations. 

Newspapers could not, under the bill, call people who buy some of the 2.5 million papers sold daily in newsracks, even though “these are our customers,” said James Ewert of CNPA. The Direct Marketing Association, representing the telemarketing industry, suggested changing the bill to instead encourage consumers to sign up for DMA’s Telephone Preference Service list. That national list has 274,000 Californians who don’t want unsolicited phone calls. 

“The DMA list just isn’t working,” said Figueroa. She said not all telemarketers are DMA members. She was home sick last week and received three calls from a business she had previously asked not to call her. 

The Assembly Business and Professions Committee sent the bill to the Appropriations Committee, the last stop before the Assembly floor