The bill that would end most if not all robo-calls is being tweaked by the judiciary committee yet again. Brian Lockhart reports:
The legislature’s Judiciary Committee yesterday completely rewrote a bill intended to ban political “robo-calls,” fearing the original might not stand up to legal scrutiny.
“We are the Judiciary Committee, and I do think it’s important for us to improve legislation so we think it passes constitutional muster,” state Rep. Gerald Fox II, D-Stamford, said after the 23-14 vote.
Fox is a committee vice chairman.
So-called robo-calls are automated telephone calls with recorded messages targeting voters.
The original bill would have included robo-calls on the state’s Do Not Call list, which residents can sign to stop telemarketers from calling.
A campaign would have been able to get around the law if a recorded political message was introduced by a live operator.
Proponents said this would curtail robo-calls indirectly by making them too expensive.
The bill passed the Government Administration and Elections Committee in March.
But state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, yesterday said the legislation would be unconstitutional because it placed different requirements on political speech than on commercial speech.
The first thing the Judiciary Committee did yesterday was strike the words “political” from the bill so it referred to all automated telephone calls.
The amended bill also did away with the “live introduction” but required the candidate or company making the phone call to immediately identify themselves.
Fox, who offered the amendments, said he believes requiring upfront identification, even if it is recorded, would discourage robo-calls because politicians have come to realize they turn off voters.
“But by the time you identify yourself at the end of the telephone call, the person’s hung up,” Fox said.
At the least, he said, candidates would be forced to “improve the quality of their calls.”
The bill was also amended to lower the proposed fine for violators from $25,000 to $5,000.
“(It is) still a pretty steep fine for a violation,” Fox said.
Besides McDonald and Fox, state Reps. Bruce Morris, D-Norwalk; Claudia “Dolly” Powers, R-Greenwich; and William Tong, D-Stamford, voted for the revised bill.
During the debate, state Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, said it was important to pass the legislation this session, before the upcoming presidential, congressional and state elections this fall.
I don’t have a problem with striking the world political form the bill. All robo-calls shoudl be under the ban. And that includes ones that originate from out of state. Lowering the fines is a useless cave in, as is eliminating the live intro. Yes it raises the costs of doing the calls, but that’s the point. Legislators shouldn’t be in the business of reducing the operating costs of mass communication when the public’s right to privacy is at stake. It’s one thing to turn on a television and get bombarded with advertising. It’s quite another to have to pay for calls that the recipient did not request. That is the crux of this matter.
source: Advocate, Legislators rewrite bill on political ‘robo-calls’, By Brian Lockhart, 04/22/2008