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From legislator to lobbyist…

Former state Rep. Jim Clark of Hayden, now a lobbyist for Frontier Communications (Betsy Russell)
Former state Rep. Jim Clark of Hayden, now a lobbyist for Frontier Communications (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - Former longtime North Idaho Rep. Jim Clark returned to the Legislature on Thursday - as a lobbyist pushing to loosen up Idaho’s do-not-call list for phone companies.

After winning a unanimous vote from a House committee for the bill, which would drop a restriction that now prevents phone, cable and cellular companies from cold-calling their customers to sell them new products if they’re on the do-not-call list, Clark was buoyant. But the Idaho Attorney General’s office wasn’t - they say Idahoans don’t want more dinnertime cold calls.

Brett DeLange, head of the Consumer Protection Bureau for the Attorney General’s office, said more than a million Idahoans have signed up for the do-not-call list, indicating “the overwhelming desire of Idaho citizens to be left alone while they’re trying to eat dinner, while they’re trying to do their homework, they’re trying to have family time.”

Current law lets businesses make calls to their existing clients, but exempts phone, cable, cellular and other telecommunications companies, because “we’re all their customers,” DeLange told the House State Affairs Committee.

He said no one on the do-not-call list has ever called the Attorney General’s office to complain that “they’re not receiving calls from solicitors, or that they’re missing calls that they want to receive.”

But Clark told the committee, “The company that I represent in northern Idaho, Frontier Communications, is spending an awful lot of money doing high-speed Internet, and they cannot tell their Idaho customers on the phone that they’re actually doing that.”

Frontier is the fourth-largest telephone company in the nation. It recently took over Verizon’s land-line business in North Idaho.

Clark’s bill, HB 55, would let telecommunications companies call to solicit their existing customers even if they’re on the do-not-call list, but would require them – and any other businesses – to stop calling if the customers say they don’t want any more calls. Failure to comply at that point would carry a $500 penalty.

Bill Roden, lobbyist for Century Link, which is co-sponsoring the bill with Frontier, said the bill would treat all businesses equally.

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said people have more options these days to not pick up their phones when such calls come in. “I think given the equities here, we should eliminate this restriction for telephone companies,” he said.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said, “We have competition now that we didn’t have 10 years ago. That has changed the dynamics in the telephone industry.”

Barbieri’s motion won unanimous support, sending the bill to the full House with a recommendation that it pass.

“I’m still humbled by my reception here,” said Clark, who served in the House from 1997 to 2010. He credited his partners on the bill, including legendary longtime lobbyist Roden.

“We’ve been working it now for three weeks,” Clark said. “We’ve talked to everybody on the committee. … It’s been a great team effort.”

Clark’s new lobbying firm, J.C. & Associates, has two other clients, Aces, a health services company, and the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department.

To become law, HB 55 still would have to pass the full House and Senate and receive the governor’s signature.