As we previously reported, on November 4, 2015, U. S. Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone calls Act of 2015—or HANGUP Act for short. The legislation, which has 14 Democratic co-sponsors, would repeal section 301(b) of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which permitted an exception to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (“TCPA”) for calls and text messages “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.”
Section 301(b) is scheduled to take effect by August 2016 following guidance from the Federal Communications Commission. The amendment to the TCPA was applauded by trade groups, including ACA International, which stated that “it shows an understanding in government that limiting dialing technology for legitimate debt collection doesn’t make sense.”
On February 10, a coalition of state attorneys general, spearheaded by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, a Republican, and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, sent a letter urging passage of the HANGUP Act to Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The letter is signed by 25 state attorneys general in total, including 19 Democrats and six Republicans. It claims that the recent enactment of section 301(b) “is a step backward in our law enforcement efforts” and is an inappropriate distinction permitted “simply because the debt has a nexus to the federal government.”
With Republicans in the majority in the Senate and election season heating up, the bill is unlikely to gain traction in the current legislative session. However, in the 2016 election, Republicans will be defending 24 Senate seats, including many in traditionally blue states, compared to just 10 for Democrats. If Democrats retake the Senate, one can reasonably expect the same or similar legislation to be reintroduced in the next Congress. Holders of government-backed debt should continue to monitor this situation and stay tuned for relevant guidelines from the FCC later this year regarding implementation of the new exception.
Troutman Sanders LLP has unique industry-leading expertise with the TCPA, with experience gained trying TCPA cases to verdict and advising Fortune 50 companies regarding their compliance strategies. We will continue to monitor legislative developments and regulatory implementation of the TCPA in order to identify and advise on potential risks.