Under the Radar

Editor’s note: Gov. Tom Wolf signed 164 bills into law in 2018, but that’s just a fraction of the hundreds of bills introduced at the Capitol. This series examines some of the legislation that’s circulating in Harrisburg but hasn’t drawn much attention.

HARRISBURG –  Legislators are working on a proposal that would crack down on robocalling by telemarketers.

Under Senate Bill 306, customers would be able to ask to be placed on a permanent “Do Not Call” list to prevent telemarketing phone calls.

The measure would bar robocalls on legal holidays and it would also require that robocalls include an automated option at the beginning to allow the person who received the call to opt out of receiving additional calls.

A similar measure passed unanimously in the state House in February. Now, the Senate is taking a look.

State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester County, introduced the legislation on Feb. 19, co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 18 other state senators.

“Apart from robocalls being annoying and intrusive, it is estimated that 40 percent of these calls are scams,” Dinniman said. “The explosive growth of robocalls cries out for a legislative remedy that would step up enforcement, improve authentication and give consumers a simple means to block these calls.”

The proposal was the subject of a public hearing convened by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee on Thursday.

According to the YouMail Robocall index–which tracks robocalls–it is estimated that Americans received 48 billion robocalls in 2018, which represents a 57 percent increase over the number received in 2017. There were 174 million robocalls in Pennsylvania in February, according to the index. YouMail is a smartphone app designed to block robocalls.

There are more than 10.4 million phone numbers in Pennsylvania registered on the national Do Not Call list, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The commission received 239,133 complaints from Pennsylvania residents related to violations of the Do Not Call list in fiscal year 2018.

Steve Samara, president of Pennsylvania Telephone Association, told lawmakers that phone companies have been trying to limit the number of robocalls.

“Some of my members have developed technical workarounds that are effective for a few months or longer, but those who are intent on defrauding often seem to find a way to do so,” he said in testimony provided to the policy committee. “All networks have susceptibilities and newer IP‐based networks offer high cover for scam artists who may be operating continents away from the actual customer.”

Pennsylvania is far from alone in trying to confront the scourge of robocalls.

Last June, Connecticut added criminal fines to the state’s anti-robocall law, according to an analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

A bill is awaiting the governor’s signature in Kentucky, after lawmakers earlier this month voted to outlaw the practice of making robocalls originating from fake phone numbers, according to CNHI newspapers in that state. Last year, lawmakers in Massachusetts considered but didn’t pass a bill that would have barred robocalls to mobile phones, according to the Pew research.

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