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Businesses pay penalties for sending e-mail; licensed professionals do not

February 12, 2003
By: Sara Bondioli
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Licensed businesses would receive an exemption allowing them to send spam e-mail, while other businesses would suffer penalties under a bill approved by a House committee Wednesday.

The bill would penalize businesses for sending unsolicited commercial e-mail to addresses on a list, similar to the state's No Call list, which went into effect in 2001. The bill includes a provision that urges Internet service providers to block access to child pornography sites.

Rep. Joe Smith, R-St. Peters, sponsored the bill and said he agrees with most changes the committee made but not the provision exempting licensed businesses.

"I'm not happy about it," Smith said. "I don't see a reason to have it in there, but I understand and can work with the reason to have it in there."

Rep. Dennis Wood, R-Kimberling City, said that change reflects the language used in the No Call bill.

"There are legitimate businesses... who are licensed by the state of Missouri and thus subject to a much higher degree of responsibility with that licensing," Wood said. "They're not the people who are sending spam out to just anybody."

However, in a news release last fall, Attorney General Jay Nixon called for "exemptions that have been a major source of complaint from people" to be removed from the No Call program. Nixon could not be reached for comment.

Samuel Licklider, lobbyist for the Missouri Association of Realtors and Missouri Funeral Directors Association, said many licensed professionals are small businesses that rarely use e-mail solicitation.

"The distinction you can draw... is people have an avenue for complaint [with licensed businesses]," Licklider said.

Rep. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said the intent is not to disrupt businesses or traditional services that have been adapted from traditional mail to e-mail.

The measure now goes to the full House for consideration.

Another change from the original bill provides that a business may send e-mail to a person who has a relationship with the business. The business may continue sending e-mail to that address for one year after the relationship is ended.

Rep. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, used the example of a newspaper subscription. If this provision were not included, Pearce said, a newspaper would pay a penalty for sending e-mail to a subscriber who had allowed a subscription to lapse for even one day. The revision allows the newspaper to send a reminder by e-mail.

The bill states that the attorney general will notify an Internet service provider if reports are received of access to child pornography sites through the provider. The provider must block access to the site within six months.

"Because of legal counsel, we are only able with this bill to restrict e-mail usage to child pornography, but I'm pleased that we're able to do that," Wood said.

Dempsey said he believes more states will follow Missouri's lead, as was the case with the No Call list.

If passed, the bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2005.

The state's No Call list has more than 1.1 million residential phone numbers. As of November, Nixon had collected $645,000 from 75 telemarketers because of the No Call program.