JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri attorney general's office has received 2.2 million requests to add cellphone numbers to the state's no-call list for telemarketers. Each time, the office had to politely decline because it's not allowed under state law.
But that could change under legislation approved unanimously Thursday by the Missouri Senate.
The bill, which now goes to the Missouri House, would expand the state's no-call list for residential landline phones to also include personal cellphones. And the off-limits list would cover not only telemarketing phone calls, but text messages and images as well.
Doug Ommen, the head of the Consumer Protection Division for the Missouri attorney general's office, said the change is necessary because more people have started using cellphones instead of landlines since the no-call list originally took effect in 2001.
"Telemarketers are calling consumers on their cellphones with the same sort of problems that created the no-call list in the first place," he said.
The federal government maintains a separate do-not-call list that includes cellphone numbers. But sponsoring Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, said he thinks Attorney General Chris Koster's office would be more responsive to complaints in Missouri than will federal regulators, who receive complaints from across the country.
"I think it's important to get it on the state's list, so that the attorney general can hold businesses accountable that are harassing people on the phone," Kraus said.
Missouri phone numbers that are placed on the federal no-call list are automatically added to the state list. But Ommen said that because Missouri's law only allows for landline numbers to be added to the state list, the state pays a private firm about $25,000 per year to scrub cellphone numbers from the state database.
He said the 2.2 million requests the attorney general's office received to add cellphone numbers to the state registry actually outnumber the total number of landlines that are currently on the state list.
Ommen said people who try to add cellphone numbers to Missouri's list are told to add their number to the federal list, but complaints from that list are usually only handled by regulators based in Washington.
"It is a real difficulty for Missourians who are frustrated," he said. "We believe state-based enforcement is critical."
The attorney general's office said in a news release last month that unwanted cellphone calls were the most common consumer complaint the office received in 2011.
The Missouri Senate bill passed the day after federal regulators said telemarketers will need to get a consumer's written consent before calling them with automated recordings known as "robocalls."
Kraus said he left provisions dealing with robocalls out of his legislation to improve its chance of passing the House.
"I think that there are political consultants that want to have that ability to do robocalls and therefore they could stop the bill from ever getting a vote in the House," he said. "It'll be interesting to see if the political consultants now go out there and purge their list for the federal (requirements) and not the state list."
Proposals to expand the do-not-call list have been introduced in the House in each of the past six years, but none has received a vote by the full chamber.
Kraus said he would support potential House changes to his bill to restrict robocalls similar to the new federal rule.