About this time last year, the accounts receivable industry was excited about the prospects for modernizing the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) and Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
ACA International, the association of credit and collections professionals, was pushing hard for legislation that would remove a Catch-22 in the FDCPA that makes it almost impossible for a collection agency to leave a voicemail message for a consumer. And two courageous congressmen, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, had actually introduced a bill to update the TCPA so businesses could provide informational messages (including past due account notifications) to their customer's mobile phones without risking large fines or lawsuits.
The ACA held a lobbying day in Washington DC, sending its members in to ask their representatives for support of these reform efforts. I was one of them, and got sympathetic but non-committal hearings from the offices of two senators and a congressman from my home state of Washington.
Then politics took over. No sponsors could be found for FDCPA reform and the congressmen were forced to withdraw their TCPA bill when faced with a hysterical onslaught of negative publicity that claimed they wanted to subject consumers to endless sales calls, even though their bill specifically continued the prohibition on calls and messages for marketing purposes.
Fast forward a year, and things are apparently much the same. But appearances can be deceiving.
Last week I once again participated in the ACA's congressional "fly in". This time there is a FDCPA reform bill in committee (Barney Frank's HR 5794) and momentum is building for a narrower TCPA bill that is expected to pay for itself by lowering the cost and increasing the rate of federal tax and student loan collections.
While I didn't get commitments of a "yes" vote from my representatives, I came away with the sense that they don't like laws that make it impossible for businesses to comply and still function. Maybe its a growing realization that businesses create jobs out of the money they are paid for the services and products they provide. That means we need sensible regulation of the process of collecting those payments that must recognize most consumers use answering machines and cell phones as their primary if not only means of communication. And that businesses need the right to communicate with those consumers who chose to do business with them - especially if they are not paying their bills!
If you think changing these laws is important, please let your representatives know. There are two easy ways to do this:
1) Visit their web page at http://house.gov/ and http://www.senate.gov/ and ask them to support HR 5794. Also ask them to consider sponsoring a TCPA reform bill that would remove the distinction between landline and mobile phones for informational communications, while leaving in place the existing restrictions on telemarketing.
2) Go to https://www.popvox.com/bills/us/112/hr5794 where you can voice your support to your rep and then sign up for alerts tracking the bill's progress.
The tide may still be out on these two very important issues. But if we all get in the water and make waves...