State AGs ask Congress to vote down mobile call bill

Jessica M. Karmasek Dec. 8, 2011, 8:00am

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - A group of attorneys general is urging Congress to reject a bill, it says, would allow debt collectors and other businesses to robocall consumers on their cell phones.

The National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter to members of Congress on Wednesday. It was signed by 54 state and territorial attorneys general, asking them to vote down the Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011, otherwise known as House Resolution 3035.

The bill, introduced in the House in September, would amend the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA.

NAAG argues that the bill would preempt state laws regulating junk faxes, unsolicited text messages, Do Not Call registries and automated calls.

"Our offices protect consumers by enforcing the TCPA and state laws concerning telephone solicitations, automated calls, junk faxes and text messages," the attorneys general wrote in their four-page letter.

"Over at least the last 22 years, Congress and the states have enacted strong laws to protect consumers from unwanted and intrusive robocalls. Currently, federal law bans robocalls to cell phones unless the consumer gives prior express consent. HR 3035 would change the law and undermine federal and state efforts to shield consumers from a flood of solicitation, marketing, debt collection and other unwanted calls and texts to their cell phones."

The attorneys general say they are concerned the bill would shift the cost of unwanted calls, like debt collection and telemarketing calls, to consumers -- in particular, those low-income consumers who cannot afford to pay.

They also argue that the bill would cause an increase in robocalls to cell phones from businesses and charities.

"HR 3035 goes far beyond the stated goal of giving debt collectors a new avenue to contact debtors and unnecessarily allows businesses to robocall or text consumers without the consumers' prior express consent," the attorneys general wrote.

They even argue that allowing robocalls to cell phones endangers public safety because of the "inevitable increase in calls to wireless phones."

"Few can resist answering the 'shrill and imperious ring' of the wireless telephone while driving," NAAG wrote. "More calls will likely mean more distracted drivers and, inevitably, more accidents."

The attorneys general propose that Congress make "two small but significant changes" to the TCPA to better protect consumers: clarify that prior express consent to robocalls must be obtained in writing; and eliminate any suggestion from the TCPA that state statutes regulating interstate telephone and fax harassment are preempted.

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