Mass. House approves bill banning robo-calls to cell phones

Campaigns use robo-calls to spread their messages

BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – The House passed legislation Thursday banning robo-calls or automated texts to cell phones.

Mattapoisett Democrat Rep. William Straus said he first filed the bill last session because he noticed he was getting robo-calls and texts from businesses he had never heard of. He viewed it as a “nuisance,” he said, and more of an interference than marketing calls to his land line.

“It’s just one of those examples where if the Legislature can be helpful to get one added nuisance out of people’s lives every day, I think that’s a good thing,” Straus told the News Service.

Beyond marketers, political campaigns often use robo-call technology to spread their messages, and Straus said he is open to changes in the bill.

“I’m certainly aware as the legislation moves that there may be a First Amendment issue on behalf of candidates who have communication rights, but it’s not unlimited in my mind that just because somebody is a candidate for office that they get to reach you anywhere,” Straus said.

The bill cleared the House last session but not the Senate. The current bill (H 299) still needs passage in the Senate before reaching the governor’s desk, and Straus said, “I have some persuading to do.”

The legislation would create a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each knowing violation, and a minimum penalty of $1,500 for each knowing violation against a senior.

Individuals who receive more than one such automated solicitation to a mobile phone would be allowed to bring their own legal action to recover any losses and up to $10,000 in damages and attorney fees. The bill exempts certain health care entities as well as school officials, messages from employers about work schedules, and messages from correctional facilities and other government entities.

Straus said people on land-lines can sign up for the do-not-call list, and noted some mobile customers might be charged for answering a robo-call or might receive a robo-call while behind the wheel of a car.

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