- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2000

Maryland and Virginia legislators are trying to craft bills that would stop telemarketers from pestering people who don't want telephone sales calls of any kind.

The Maryland bill sponsored by Sen. Jean Roesser, Montgomery County Republican would require the Maryland Public Service Commission to maintain a list of consumers who have paid a small fee to ensure they are not called. If they are, they can sue and be awarded up to $1,000.

Virginia lawmakers held a public hearing on their bill Tuesday.

Monique O'Grady of Northern Virginia tried to stop AT&T; from calling her at home asking her to switch to their phone service, even going so far as to sue under federal law. But the company wouldn't stop, she said.

So there she was, seven months pregnant, running for the phone, only to find out it was AT&T.;

"You would have thought AT&T; was the expectant father," she said.

Now the Arlington mother is asking Virginia to help where federal authorities couldn't. She may just get that help. Legislation to limit telemarketers a perennial loser in the state General Assembly may have life this year.

A bill now before the House Corporations, Insurance and Banking Committee would let residents sign up, for an initial $10 fee and a yearly $5 fee, to be on a list of folks who do not want to be called by telemarketers.

Telemarketers doing business in Virginia would have to buy the list every 90 days, and would face penalties, as would Marylanders, if they continued to call those on the list.

The banking committee is scheduled to act today.

Mrs. O'Grady was joined in her support for the bill by a few other residents who told similar stories about problems with telemarketers. One woman said the worst occasion is when they call and ask for a spouse who has passed away.

But after they were done came the line of suits "murderer's row," as one delegate called them representing insurance and stock sellers, phone companies and direct marketers who told the committee the law is useless because it can't touch out-of-state marketers. If that's the case, they argued, why pass it at all?

They pointed to the thousands of Virginians who make their living through telemarketing, and told lawmakers those folks could lose their jobs if the bill passes.

The companies represented yesterday are big contributors to lawmakers, and their representatives said their business would be hurt by restricting telemarketing. Many asked for special exemptions from the law. Even the Virginia Press Association said small newspapers, which use direct marketing, could be hurt.

The fate of the bill seems to rest on the question of whether or not out-of-state telemarketers can be reached through the bill, or if it only prevents those calls coming from within the state, said the committee co-chairman, Delegate Harvey B. Morgan, Gloucester Republican.

Supporters yesterday offered the example of Georgia and Florida, which passed similar laws and, they said, have been able to go after out-of-state companies. The committee asked the Attorney General's Office to look into the other states' experience and report back.

Similar bills have been killed in each of the past few years. But a vote yesterday on an amendment that, Mr. Morgan said, would have gutted the bill failed 10-10, showing significant support for some type of legislation this year.

"There are a lot of members of this committee who would desperately like to vote for something," Mr. Morgan said.

One of the bill's sponsors, Delegate George W. Grayson, James City Democrat, was encouraged.

"I think we've got a fighting chance of seeing this bill reported to the floor. If it gets to the floor, I think it will pass overwhelmingly," he said after the hearing.

Mrs. O'Grady told lawmakers she even sued under federal law to stop AT&T;, but lost the case. The company argued first that the phone line was in her husband's name so she could not sue; that she could not prove it was AT&T;, though the caller always said so; and, the final winning argument in court that the federal law only required the company to keep a do-not-call list, it does not require it to follow it.

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