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Columbia Missourian

Harris unveils proposals to block phone calls, spam

By CHRIS BLANK/The Associated Press
July 17, 2008 | 6:34 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Jeff Harris, a Democratic attorney general candidate from Columbia, said Thursday that he wants to expand the state’s no-call list and crack down on e-mail spammers.

Harris, on a campaign trip through southwest Missouri, announced several proposals designed to protect consumers and spare them from bothersome phone calls and e-mails.

He called for allowing people to add their business and cell phones numbers to the telemarketers’ blacklist, which is managed and enforced by the attorney general; banning politicians and campaigns from using “robo-calls” from automatic dialing machines; and finding new ways to target companies that send out spam e-mails.

Harris also said he wants tougher standards for subprime loans and caps on the interest rates payday lenders can charge.

Besides Harris, other Democrats running in the Aug. 5 attorney general’s primary are Sen. Chris Koster, of Harrisonville, and Rep. Margaret Donnelly, of St. Louis. Sen. Michael Gibbons, of Kirkwood, is the lone Republican candidate.

They are seeking to replace Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon, who is running for governor.

Harris also suggested giving the attorney general’s office responsibility for the state’s public counsel, who advocates for consumers before utility regulators. The director of the Department of Economic Development selects an attorney to hold that position and lead an office with other lawyers, public utility accountants and economists.

Harris told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that giving the state’s top prosecutor hiring and firing authority over the public counsel makes sense because protecting consumers is a big part of that job. He said it would also allow the attorney general to be more aggressive when it comes to setting public utility rates.

“It would give consumers an even stronger voice because the attorney general’s office is the place for consumer protection in state government,” Harris said. “It naturally fits within the scope of the attorney general’s mission.”

Public Counsel Lewis Mills was on vacation Thursday and could not be reached for comment. State laws govern how the public counsel operates, so the legislature would need to pass a bill putting that office under the attorney general’s control.

Donnelly unveiled her priorities earlier this month. They included several consumer protection provisions, such as setting up an e-mail or text message alert system to notify Missourians of recalled products and potential scams; a special hot line to inform seniors about fraud; and tougher state laws against dangerous consumer products.

Koster has said he will go after predatory lenders and focus on those who use the Internet for scams and for identity theft.