General Assembly

Senate Debates Ban on Robocalls

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 28, 2007

When Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard) sees a "No Trespassing" sign on the front yard of a house while campaigning, he says he skips over it.

Politicians should offer the same courtesy with telephones, he believes. So he's working to deny his fellow elected officials what some of them consider a sacred right: the robocall.

The Maryland General Assembly yesterday began debating a measure sponsored by Kittleman that would make it illegal for campaigns to make those pesky automated calls to people who have signed up for the federal do-not-call telemarketing list.

The proposal has drawn the ire of some of Kittleman's colleagues and of civil libertarians who argue that it infringes on free speech.

"I think when people sign up for the do-not-call list, it's their way of saying 'no trespassing' on my phone," Kittleman said. "And if others can't call them, why not political calls?"

Kittleman isn't the only one who believes it is time to put an end to political automated calls.

Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) has sponsored a similar bill that would go further than Kittleman's proposal and ban almost all noncommercial automated calls. Politicians or candidates who violate the law would be fined $1,000 for a first offense and $5,000 for subsequent violations.

Only a handful of states, including Arkansas, North Dakota and Minnesota, ban automated calls from political parties or campaigns. Several other states, including Idaho and Connecticut, are considering measures this year.

Brochin said voters told him that the number of robocalls they received this past election was "off the charts."

"I had people tell me, 'You're done if I get a robocall from you,' " Brochin said.

His camp did not use them; neither did his opponents.

But, Brochin said, even he was inundated with calls at home from candidates in other races.

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