Bill would end robo-calls from political candidates

By Marc Kovac

One lawmaker says the bill would violate free-speech rights.

COLUMBUS — Residents could put the kibosh on some political robo-calls, under legislation introduced by one state lawmaker.

House Bill 506, sponsored by Rep. Thom Collier, a Republican from Mount Vernon, would create a Do Not Call registry for automated calls, giving candidates or campaigns 30 days to remove residents’ numbers from their phone banks.

The legislation also would require such prerecorded messages to disclose, at the beginning of calls, the name of the groups responsible and their funding source.

Collier told members of the House’s State Government and Elections Committee on Thursday the bill would not prohibit person-to-person calls — candidates or supporters calling others directly to urge them to vote or attend speaking engagements, for example.

But Rep. Dan Stewart, a Democrat from the Columbus area, questioned the need for the bill.

He said he used automated calls to inform constituents about town meetings where he is speaking or answering questions.

“I don’t really think it’s that much of an imposition,” he said of the calls. “... In fact, I think it’s something we need to do more of in democracy today.”

He added, “I think that we may be tinkering with a First Amendment right that could get probably a lot of court cases generated on this.”

An analysis by the state’s Legislative Service Commission acknowledged the latter: “Because the bill regulates political speech, if enacted it may be subject to challenge on freedom of speech grounds. The United States Supreme Court has stated that, “when a state seeks to restrict directly the offer of ideas by a candidate to the voters, the First Amendment surely requires that the restriction be demonstrably supported by not only a legitimate state interest, but a compelling one, and that the restriction operate without unnecessarily circumscribing protected expression. .. .

“ ... Thus, if the bill is enacted and then subject to judicial challenge, it appears that the court will need to determine that any restrictions on political speech established by the bill are narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest, in order for those restrictions to be upheld.”

But Collier said the bill “does not prohibit anyone from political free speech.”

Rather, it provides a means, comparable to the registries in place covering other telephone solicitations, for people who do not want to receive automated political calls, he said.

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