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What one judge ruled unconstitutional, Missouri practices in law

September 29, 2003
By: Kate Amburgey
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Since July 2001 a loophole in Missouri's anti-telemarketing law has allowed charity organizations to make telemarketing calls to homes on the state's No Call list.

However, a federal judge ruled last Thursday that it is unconstitutional to block the speech of telemarketing calls, but not calls for charities, because it manipulates consumer choice.

The question of constitutionality remains, but for now Missouri charities will keep calling.

The ruling has no direct impact in Missouri because it is in the 8th district and the ruling was made by a 10th district judge, said Scott Holste, spokesman for Attorney General Jay Nixon.

More than half of Missouri households are on the No Call list. Fifty-one million Americans are signed-up for the national do not call list, which President Bush signed into law Monday.

"No legal challenges have ever been made against the [Missouri] law and we plan to vigorously defend the law until there is another federal ruling," Holste said.

State legislators debated this issue of constitutionality before they passed the bill in 2001. As the bill ascends the ranks of the federal appellate court system, Missouri legislators may be forced to reconsider their decision.

"We will do whatever it takes to make the law enforceable and right now I believe the law is completely enforceable," said Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County and chair of the senate judiciary committee.

Missouri leads the nation in the number of suits against telemarketers - collecting more than $1 million in fines over the past two years, according to the Attorney General's web site.

Suits are pending against MCI, AT&T, and Southwestern Bell for refusing to abide by Missouri's No Call laws and the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits companies from calling consumers who have asked to be taken off their call lists.

These companies could use Thursday's ruling to their advantage.

"It is possible for companies to use this ruling in defense of pending complaints," said Greg Scott, a professor at the MU law school." But if the state has already brought action against a company and the fines have already been paid, it is highly unlikely that a complaint will be filed."

The judiciary committee will not meet until January to review the law.

"We will just sit back and wait two or three months to see how the federal law works out the problem," Sen. Bartle said. "I'm hoping they'll just overturn the decision in an appeal court."