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Ore. legislators target automated political phone calls

By The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — Those automated political calls that annoy some voters each election season irritate a few politicians as well.

Two Oregon legislators say they want to rid the state of the unsolicited calls.

One bill would outlaw almost all prerecorded messages of any kind. Another proposal would eliminate the free-speech hurdle — by asking voters to change the Oregon Constitution.

“People hate them,” says Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, who is sponsoring the proposals with Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley. “What these things do is hold your voice mail and your message machine in your personal home hostage. … You should have the choice to say no.”

The idea is being considered other places as well after voters complained of being inundated during last fall’s election.

Congress is looking at a bill that would expand the federal do-not-call list to block automated calls from political as well as commercial sources.

Half a dozen states already regulate the practice.

Laws in other states have faced legal challenges because federal law prohibits states from regulating such calls and opponents argue that the restrictions violate the First Amendment.

However, some challenges have been upheld. In Indiana last year, a federal judge said the right to privacy trumped the free-speech concerns. And the judge said campaigns have “ample alternate forms” of communication left to them. It is being appealed.

Still, attorney Charles Hinkle, a First Amendment expert who also represents The Oregonian newspaper, says the U.S. Supreme Court has never addressed the constitutionality of outlawing an entire method of communication.

The idea faces a higher hurdle in Oregon, where the constitution protects speech more fiercely than federal law. Lawmakers should keep that in mind as they consider the proposals, says Andrea Meyer of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which opposes the ban.

“Oregonians have been asked four times” to limit speech at the ballot, she said. “And each time they said no.”

The bill that would ban all prerecorded messages does have exceptions — such as if the recipient has consented or if the messages are for legitimate business, public safety or school-related purposes. Calls cannot go to cell phones.

A proposed resolution would ask voters to change the constitution at the next primary election.

It’s not clear how hungry legislators are to ban the low-cost campaigning tool. Metsger says he will hold public hearings on the proposals in his Senate business committee this week.


High court refuses to hear challenge to 'robo-call' law

Virginia political-polling firm had asked justices to review North Dakota law barring telemarketers from making prerecorded interstate calls to state residents. 10.10.06

Indiana can block automated political calls
Federal judge rejects claim that ban on such phone calls is unconstitutional restraint on free speech, interstate commerce. 10.26.06

Congress votes to make 'Do Not Call Registry' permanent
Lawmakers send President Bush two measures to continue popular program shielding consumers from unwanted phone calls from telemarketers. 02.07.08

State, federal lawmakers target political 'robo-calls'
Legal experts warn that campaign-related calls could raise constitutional questions that commercial pitches don't. 02.08.08


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