Markey, Lee Team Up On Robocall Crackdown


Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey and Utah Republican Mike Lee are frequently on different sides of issues in the Senate – but not when it comes to cracking down on robocalls.

Markey introduced a bill March 8—the “Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone Calls Act” or  HANGUP Act—to revoke a carve-out for federal contractors from penalties under federal robocall laws. Lee is a co-sponsor.

The bill would roll back a provision of the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act that exempts debt collectors calling on behalf of the federal government, such as those targeting student loans or mortgage debt, from penalties for potential violations under the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). It would also do away with another Federal Communications Commission regulation with a similar impact.

“When Congress passed the TCPA, the goal was clear: consumers should not be subject to unwanted robocalls and robotexts on their phones,” Markey said in an e-mailed statement. Markey helped write the bill when he was a member of the House. “But recent carveouts by Congress and the FCC allow government contractors to robocall and robotext consumers without their affirmative express consent. I’m proud to introduce the HANGUP Act, which will ensure that government contractors are subject to meaningful rules protecting consumers from abusive robocalls and robotexts.”

For Lee, the issue is all about reining in “congressional entitlement” and bureaucratic overreach.

“If independent and private businesses are not allowed to harass consumers with unwanted robocalls and texts, government and government contractors should be held to that same standard," Lee said.

Markey introduced a similar bill on his own in 2015, but it never made it out of committee. With Republican backing, including likely support from Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the bill could gain more support this time around, though passage is far from certain.

Consumers might also sign on. Autodialed calls and texts, frequently for the purposes of debt collection, are consistently the top consumer complaints for both the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission.

Although the FCC under Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler took steps to clamp down on the number and types of robocalls that could be lawfully placed under the TCPA, the Obama administration also worked to secure the carve out for federal contractors.