TCPA to be Amended?: A Fourth “Robocall” Bill Dropped Into the Legislative Hopper

The proposed robocall legislation bin is filling up this Congress. Although it comes with no fancy acronym like the TRACED Act (S. 151), REAL PEACE or HANG-UP Act (H.R. 1421), the latest addition to the pile is H.R. 1575, the Robocall Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2019.

Authored by freshman Democratic Congressman Jefferson Van Drew, of New Jersey’s Second Congressional District, the bill was introduced on March 6 and referred to the initial home of such legislation in the House of Representatives – the Energy and Commerce Committee. While the text of H.R. 1575 is not yet available, Congressman Van Drew’s press release summarizes that his enforcement-oriented proposal (a) authorizes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to pursue cases against robocall rule violations without first issuing a citation; (b) increases the statute of limitations for the FCC to pursue caller id spoofing violations from two years to three years; and (c) increases the statute of limitations for the FCC to pursue robocall violations from one year to three years.

To date, no companion Senate bill has been introduced, but S. 2964, with the same title, was offered last April by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and 11 Democratic co-sponsors. It included comparable substantive provisions. Stay tuned to see if this initiative reappears in the Senate.

Congressman Van Drew is not a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, but that Committee’s Chairman, Congressman Frank Pallone, is from the neighboring 6th Congressional District in New Jersey. Chairman Pallone has his own proposal, H.R. 946, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, to clarify the prohibitions on making such calls. So there are parallel interests between the two New Jersey Democrats.

One interesting component to the Van Drew proposal is the elimination of the requirement that the FCC, before seeking to impose a monetary penalty for TCPA violations, issue a warning “citation” if the alleged violator does not hold an FCC license/authorization or is not an applicant for such authority. Such a warning, then followed by additional violating conduct, would no longer be a prerequisite to initiating the process to impose a forfeiture liability on such entities under Section 503 of the Communications Act.

The future prospects for H.R. 1575 are uncertain at this point. There are no co-sponsors. But Democratic control of the House and the focus of the jurisdictional Committee Chair and other Committee Democrats on issues surrounding robocalls violating the TCPA arguably enhance its prospects. We will be watching to see if a hearing is planned to examine collectively the pending robocall proposals.

A postscript as we complete this post, yet another bill, H.R. 1602, was introduced just yesterday by Republican Congressman David Kustoff of Tennessee’s 8th District. No text or press release is as yet available, but the described purpose is to “deter criminal robocall violations and improve enforcement of Section 227(b) of the Communications Act.” The bill is also headed for the Energy and Commerce Committee.

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