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Sunday, March 16, 2003

Senate OKs Strict Telemarketer Bill

By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
    SANTA FE Tired of telemarketers? A bill passed by the Senate and sent to the House on Saturday may be to your liking.
    New Mexicans who put their names on a national do-not-call list planned by the Federal Trade Commission would also be entered in a state registry that is even more restrictive, under the bill.
    All telemarketers, except for businesses that had pre-existing relationships with those on the list, would be prohibited from calling.
    Earlier versions of the bill had exemptions for groups such as Realtors, charities, newspapers, public opinion pollsters and political candidates, effectively allowing them to call.
    But the bill the Senate approved 30-7 Saturday was a stripped-down version that would not allow calls from those groups.
    "We have a very good, strong bill now, that I think consumers will really like," said Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, the sponsor.
    The state's do-not-call statute would be more restrictive than the FTC's. The federal rules, for example, don't bar calls from financial institutions or telephone or insurance companies, Feldman said.
    The state Attorney General's Office would keep the state registry which would be updated quarterly and oversee enforcement.
    Companies that made calls to consumers registered on the do-not-call list could face misdemeanor charges. Consumers could also sue telemarketers who call. The consumers could be awarded $500 per violation.
    Telemarketers would be prohibited from using devices to block residents' caller ID under the legislation.
    Also banned would be "dead calls," the practice under which telemarketers dial more than one number at a time then talk only to the first person who answers.
    Also approved Saturday by the Senate on a vote of 22-11 was another measure sponsored by Feldman that would prohibit unsolicited advertising from being sent by fax or e-mail, unless the message contained a toll-free number or e-mail address that the consumer could use to get off the mailing list.
    The second Feldman measure also went to the House.