House Democrats have joined an effort to ensure that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (“TCPA”) applies to calls to collect government-backed debt. We previously reported that on November 4, 2015, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone calls Act of 2015, also known as the HANGUP Act. The Senate bill now has 16 Democratic co-sponsors—including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is currently seeking the Democratic nomination for the presidency—and aims to repeal section 301(b) of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.
Section 301(b) allowed an exception to restrictions within the TCPA for calls and text messages “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.” The exception 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 March 4, Congresswomen Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) introduced a bill in the House of Representatives with identical language to the Senate’s HANGUP Act. In a statement issued concurrently, Rep. Eshoo asserted, “The HANGUP Act restores critical protections for consumers by establishing a statutory roadblock to unwanted robocalls and texts.”
With Republicans in the majority in both houses and election season in full swing, the bill is unlikely to gain traction in the current legislative session. However, should Democrats retake one or both chambers of Congress in the November 2016 elections, one can reasonably expect the same or similar legislation to be reintroduced in the next legislative session beginning in 2017. Holders of government-backed debt should continue to monitor this situation and stay tuned for the FCC’s guidance later this year regarding implementation of section 301(b).
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.