On a 40-17 vote, the House of Representatives approved legislation Monday to study the question of regulating telemarketers for another year — and do nothing more in the interim.
But the sponsor of a more far-reaching bill promised that his proposal to begin providing protection this year for Arizonans from unwanted calls will see the light of day. Sen. Tim Bee, R-Tucson, said he is counting on public pressure for immediate relief to force his less anxious colleagues to go along.
But Bee’s challenge is finding a way to fund a no-call list without additional tax dollars. Monday’s vote on HB2442 is a victory for business and telephone company lobbyists who have balked at limits on telemarketing for years.
This year, their objection has taken on a new form. They want federal regulators to enact their own restrictions on interstate calls before the state can consider its own limits.
But Bee said he believes this is a delaying tactic set up to ultimately destroy any state legislation.
A lobbyist for Qwest Communications, which makes money selling the names and phone numbers of its customers, said no state action is necessary. Manny Lerma said people who don’t want to be bothered shouldn’t answer the phone.
And the Arizona Newspapers Association, unable to convince legislators to create an exemption for its members, is working to kill the entire idea. Lobbyist Phil MacDonnell said the newspapers need to continue making calls to sign up new subscribers as part of the media’s First Amendment obligations.
Rep. Gary Pierce, R-Mesa, sponsor of the current bill, said he is not necessarily against setting up a no-call list, but insisted Bee’s proposal needs more study.
Estimates put the start-up costs of Bee’s proposal at $100,000. Bee said Secretary of State Jan Brewer has balked at paying for that from her own budget, meaning lawmakers would have to find new cash. But with the state facing a $1 billion deficit next year, lawmakers have bottled up all bills starting new programs with costs.
Bee said he is studying other legislation that relieves Brewer’s office of some responsibilities. He said any savings from those programs could be used to fund creation and maintenance of the no-call list.
But Brewer said those dollars already are spoken for: Those other bills are designed to deal with the fact that her budget has been cut 25 percent.
The Federal Trade Commission, one of two agencies dealing with telemarketers, awarded a contract last month to AT&T to set up the first nationwide no-call list. That list is supposed to be operating by September.