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'Robocall' legislation upcoming in Missouri House and Senate

Tuesday, December 30, 2008 | 5:59 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Despite a continued push from Gov.-elect Jay Nixon during his time as attorney general, the Missouri legislature has yet to pass a bill that would place automated telephone calls on a statewide list blocking telemarketing calls.

The issue will continue to be pressed in the 2009 session, with bills from both the House and Senate that advocate adding automated telephone calls to the state's no-call list.

The legislation to block automated telephone calls reached a high point in 2007 when the Senate unanimously passed a measure that would have put automated phone calls on the no-call list. The bill was given to the House rules committee, but was not voted on.

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Louis, helped write the bill after he received complaints from constituents about automated calls made in his name. Although Rupp's campaign didn't make political automated calls, other third party organizations made such calls without identifying their organization.

"It was a problem, not just for the people getting the calls, but also for us candidates," he said.

But the idea was blocked from consideration by the House leadership. A bill similar to Rupp's in the Senate was not even assigned to a committee until the last day of session.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Edward Wildberger, D-St. Joseph, said House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, disliked the bill and held it back.

"The speaker felt that this wasn't a bill that was going to advance his cause any or the cause of top Republicans who traditionally have more money to spend on these elections, and therefore, can make more robocalls," he said. "I think it is partisan within the House. ... Otherwise I think we would at least had the courtesy of hearing the bill on the floor."

Jetton said he did not try to hold the bill back even though he didn't support the bill.

"I'll be honest, I wasn't out banging on anybody('s door)," he said. "I had other things that were in my opinion higher priority to the citizens that I spent my political capital begging on."

Jetton said saying one party consistently overspends the other is "crazy" because it varies from year to year which party has more campaign funding.

"Look at Jay Nixon against Kenny Hulshof ... outspent by millions of dollars," he said. "What I've seen, from just a campaign strategy, is the candidates who put in less money usually do the robocalls because they're cheap and inexpensive."

If it had come up for a vote, Jetton said he would have been less supportive of the bill because it would restrain free speech.

"I don't know why the government gets involved in deciding who can call who," he said. "You don't have to answer your phone, you have answering machines that can pick them up."

Wildberger said his constituents feel like robocalls are an invasion of privacy and that complaints increased this year.

"This year, it was probably one of the worst," he said. "Because of the competition (of the election) and the number of people running this year, it just seemed like they were constantly robocalling during peak hours."

While both the House and Senate drafted similar bills for the 2008 session, neither were voted on.

On Dec. 1, Rupp and Wildberger pre-filed bills for the 2009 legislative session that would regulate automated calling.

Rupp said he believed the bill would pass in the Senate and hopes to persuade his colleagues in the House to pass it.

Nixon spokesman Oren Shur would not give specifics on how Nixon would expand consumer protection as governor but said Nixon will work with Attorney General-elect Chris Koster.

Danny Kanner, spokesperson for Attorney General-elect Chris Koster, would not say whether Koster would be an advocate of adding political automated calls to the no-call list, but that he's open to the idea.


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