Senate panel advances bill penalizing illegal robocalls

A Senate panel on Wednesday advanced legislation that would levy a hefty fine on illegal robocalls, the latest congressional effort to crack down on the billions of unwanted calls that irritate U.S. consumers every year.

Lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee approved the bill in 26-0 vote. The measure's co-sponsors include Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharRules for first Democratic primary debates announced Senate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Sanders unveils student debt plan amid rivalry with Warren MORE (D-Minn.), who is running for president, and Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (R-Kan.), who chairs the Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee.

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The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, introduced by Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneHillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns GOP senators divided over approach to election security McSally on Moore running for Senate again: 'This place has enough creepy old men' MORE (R-S.D.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySenate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Young activists press for change in 2020 election Hillicon Valley: House panel advances election security bill | GOP senator targets YouTube with bill on child exploitation | Hicks told Congress Trump camp felt 'relief' after release of Clinton docs | Commerce blacklists five Chinese tech groups MORE (D-Mass.), would give the federal government the authority to slap offenders with fines of up to $10,000 per call.

It also would give the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) more time to bring charges against companies behind illegal robocalls, lengthening the statute of limitations from one to three years. The telecom industry would be required under the legislation to take stronger action against “spoofing,” a practice where robocallers make it look like they are calling from a number in the recipient's area code.

“As nearly half of all calls to mobile phones this year will be robocalls, this legislation can’t get signed into law soon enough,” Thune said during the hearing. “The TRACED Act is a bipartisan act that targets the worst of the worst.”

Markey called the vote “historic.”

“Today, the committee did just take a historic step towards finally ending the deluge of unwanted and intrusive robocalls bombarding millions of consumers across our country on a daily basis,” Markey said.

Lawmakers during the previous Congress held three hearings and passed 13 bills aimed at curtailing robocalls, but the measure advanced by the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday is the most significant piece of legislation to address the issue.

U.S. residents received an estimated 26 billion robocalls last year, with a quarter of those from illegal robocallers, according to an industry estimate cited by The Washington Post on Tuesday.

The Federal Trade Commission and FCC have said the most complaints they receive pertain to “unwanted and illegal robocalls.”

But critics say the two agencies have not done enough to address the issue, as the number of unwanted calls has climbed significantly in recent years.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai last month warned phone service providers that if they don't crack down on "spoofed" caller IDs from robocallers, the agency will “consider regulatory intervention."

Updated at 10:21 a.m.