By JIM SALTER
LEMAY, Mo. (AP) - For more than a decade, Missourians have been able to ban most telemarketing calls from their landline phones, a protection that has been extended to cellphones following a bill-signing ceremony on Thursday.
Gov. Jay Nixon was in St. Louis County to sign into law a measure allowing cellphone numbers to be added to the state's no-call list for telemarketers. The law prohibits most phone solicitations to cellphones placed on the list. It also bans unwanted text and multimedia messages.
"Over the past 12 years Missouri's No Call Law has been highly successful and a model for other states," Nixon said at a ceremony at a senior center in south St. Louis County. He called the new law "another milestone in protecting Missouri consumers."
Nixon was attorney general in 2000 when the state first adopted the no-call law for landlines in response to thousands of consumer complaints about unwanted telephone solicitations. He said that by 2003, 2.5 million Missourians had signed up for the list.
The list currently has about 1.8 million names. Nixon and Koster said that is because many people now use cellphones as their primary phones.
The new law bans automated messages, known as robocalls, with some exceptions. It does not prohibit politics-related calls, though Koster said he wished it did.
Koster said his office typically gets 150 to 200 calls a week from residents complaining about telemarketing calls or text messages to cellphones. Last year, the state assessed fines and penalties for No Call List violations amounting to about $1 million.
Phil Grudzinski, CEO of the Professional Association for Customer Engagement, a trade group whose members include telemarketers, said the organization supports the extension of the Missouri law, which essentially mirrors a federal no-call law.
"What it does is it promotes the best behavior toward consumers," Grudzinski said. "It allows individuals to be in control of who they want to contact them. It is allowing more individual consumer preference on how they want to be contacted, and that's all good."
Nixon said the law goes beyond eliminating a nuisance. He said many scam artists use telemarketing calls to illegally obtain personal information or to attempt to harass people into phony sweepstakes and other fraudulent schemes.
"These scam artists are hitting cellphones now," Nixon said. "That's why this law is so important."
Lou Shedlock, 82, said at the bill-signing that he gets constant calls from telemarketers but when he tries to ask that his number be removed they hang up.
"Very frustrating," Shedlock said.
Koster said there are challenges despite the law. An increasing number of telemarketing calls are from overseas, making enforcement more difficult. Some also used blocked return numbers, another move that hampers enforcement of the No Call List.
The law provides for penalties of up to $5,000 per violation. Residents can sign up online at ago.mo.gov, or by calling 1-866-buzzoff (1-866-289-9633).
Associated Press writer Chris Blank in Jefferson City, Mo., and Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.