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U.S. Senate passes Thune's bill to 'crack down' on robocalls

Sen. John Thune

PIERRE, S.D. -- The U.S. Senate on Thursday, May 23, overwhelmingly passed Majority Whip and South Dakota U.S. Sen. John Thune's bill to "crack down on annoying, illegal and abusive robocalls."

The Senate voted 97-1 to pass the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, sponsored by Thune, a Republican and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts. According to a Thursday news release from Thune's office, the bill would grant the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) more authority to seek civil penalties up to $10,000 per call "on people who intentionally flout telemarketing restrictions."

Thune in Thursday's release called the TRACE Act a "common-sense bill (that) puts a bullseye on the scam artists and criminals who are making it difficult for many Americans to answer the phone with any bit of confidence about who’s on the other end of the line."

If passed and signed into law, the bill would lengthen the statute of limitations on robocalls from one to three years to give the FCC more time to find and take civil action against robocallers. It would also require voice service providers to authenticate their calls to phone carriers before going through.

Under the TRACED Act, federal agencies like the FCC, Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and more, as well as state attorneys general, would issue a report to Congress detailing additional methods to deter and prosecute telephone scams at the state and federal level. The bill also directs the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to stop spam calls and texts.

“While this bill would make it easier for federal regulators to levy more substantial financial penalties on these bad actors, we take it one step further by working toward creating a credible threat of criminal prosecution – laying the ground work to put these people behind bars," Thune said.

The TRACED Act was cosponsored by 84 senators and was backed by all 50 state attorneys general, as well as all current FCC and FTC commissioners. Thune said in the release that the broad support "highlights the urgency of this matter."

The bill now goes on to the U.S. House for consideration.