Annoying phone calls skyrocketing — Susan Collins wants to know why

Good morning from Augusta, where the deal-or-no-deal budget carousel continues to spin faster and faster.

Quick recap: Legislative leaders spent the better part of Wednesday accusing each other of blowing up a budget accord that had seemed ready to go just the day before.

Dysfunction and difficulty in the negotiating process had apparently gotten so bad that Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland told reporters he and Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves were “breaking off” negotiations entirely.

They blamed House GOP leader Ken Fredette for negotiating in bad faith. Fredette blamed Democrats for abandoning a deal when they couldn’t sell it to their caucus.

Senate President Michael Thibodeau, a Republican, begged everyone to stop holding press conferences and talking to reporters and get back to negotiations. By Wednesday evening, despite all the finger-pointing earlier in the day, that’s what they did.

And so the process starts again. — Mario Moretto.

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Collins says ‘Do Not Call’ list isn’t working anymore

The National Do Not Call Registry was created in 2003. The idea is that by signing up, Americans could protect themselves from unwanted calls from telemarketers.

But according to CBS, the registry has done little to slow the onslaught of unsolicited calls. Complaints to the FCC about unwanted calls have nearly tripled, from 63,000 per month to 150,000.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, led a hearing of the Special Senate Committee on Aging at the Capitol yesterday designed to investigate the issue.

“A large part of the problem of unwanted calls traces to the fact that the regulatory framework behind the Do Not Call list has been rendered ineffective by advances in technology,” Collins said, according to a news release from her office.

Collins specifically targeted a practice known as “spoofing,” whereby a telemarketer or scammer can mask their caller ID, or even pretend to be someone else. One of the senator’s staffers demonstrated by calling Collins on her cellphone during the hearing. Using a free iPhone app, the staffer made it look like the call was coming from the IRS.

Collins’ committee and the Maine attorney general regularly warn the public about telemarketing scams, of which seniors are the usual victims.

In March, for example, they sounded the alarm on scamsters who pretended to be the IRS, demanding immediate payment for bogus back taxes and penalties. The caller tells the victim that home foreclosure and jail could ensue if they didn’t pay immediately, over the phone.

“The best advice to Mainers is to be very suspicious of anyone calling you and demanding an immediate payment,” said Attorney General Mills, in a news release at the time.  “When in doubt, hang up the phone.  If you have questions, call the entity they claimed to be from to see if you have a debt to pay and never, ever make a payment over the phone.”

Collins and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, the committee’s ranking member, have both co-sponsored  new legislation that would give the FCC more authority to stop unwanted calls and stiffen penalties. — Mario Moretto.

Veto watch

By Wednesday night, nine of the 10 bills vetoed Monday by Republican Gov. Paul LePage — for no reason other than they were sponsored by Democrats — were on their way to becoming law anyway after the vetoes were overturned by the House and Senate. For more details, read Chris Cousins’ story, here.

On Wednesday, LePage issued three new vetoes. The nixed bills included:

  • LD 484, An Act Regarding the Confidentiality of Railroad Carrier Cargo, by Rep. Michael Shaw, D-Standish, which would have created a new exemption in the state’s Freedom of Access law to exclude records about hazardous material transported via rail from public scrutiny when those records are held by law enforcement and emergency agencies. LePage said he was vetoing the bill in the interest of transparency.
  • LD 626, An Act Regarding Write-in Candidates in Municipal and City Elections, by Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon. LePage said he was vetoing the bill because it created scenarios wherein towns would be allowed to ignore some ballots cast for write-in candidates.
  • LD 1429, An Act to Amend the Laws Regarding On-premises and Off-premises Liquor Licenses, a bill by the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, presented to the Legislature by Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth. LePage said he was vetoing the bill because it was sponsored by a Democrat.

The vetoes of the three bills above will be considered by the House and Senate in the coming days. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list

Musical interlude

Rykerson BursteinThe chatter of lobbyists, lawmakers and reporters rang through the halls of the State House on Wednesday afternoon.

But just outside, on the third floor balcony, Reps. Christine Burstein, D-Lincolnville, and Deane Rykerson, D-Kittery, filled the air with different sounds. The duo took a break to play lovely music together — Burstein on flute, Rykerson on cello. The photo above was made by my colleague Chris Cousins.

While the two Democrats played, budget negotiations inside the building faltered, raising once again the threat of a government shutdown. One lobbyist told me she was reminded of Nero and his famous, albeit apocryphal, fiddle. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.