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State Sen. Daniel Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) is ready to ride to the rescue with a bill that would have government put an end to unwanted phone solicitations. He is also sponsoring a bill that would force companies that send out junk mail to give citizens the option of returning a postcard asking them to be taken off the mailing list.
New Yorkers who didn't want to be bothered could add their name, address and phone number to a national registry of people who don't want to be bothered. Any salesperson who rings your doorbell or calls you on the phone would risk serious fines.
If only such a law existed in Dickens' day, poor old Mr. Scrooge would not have had to put up with the distraction of the gentleman who came to his office seeking donations for the orphanage.
It is unclear whether pollsters and campaign workers employed by the Democrats and Republicans would also be subject to the Hevesi hammer. And what about the people raising funds to support St. Mary's Hospital for Children or to fight AIDS or cancer? Will such noble causes also be at risk under this law?
And what would the impact of this legislation be on the economy? Although phone soliciting is a difficult job, it provides a living for thousands of people in New York City, including men and women who sell subscriptions to the TimesLedger papers. Thousands of legitimate businesses depend on "junk mail" and phone soliciting to drum up new business.
We would hope that the Legislature would not vote on the Hevesi bill until a study is done to assess the damage it might do. The men and women in Albany have a fondness for passing feel-good legislation that generates knee-jerk popular support.
Then there is the larger question: Do we really want Big Brother restricting free speech in this way? Are we willing to compromise the freedom of speech that the founders of this nation regarded as precious in order to be rid of the relatively small nuisance of throwing away a piece of junk mail or answering the phone?
And what will Mr. Hevesi do to companies that call or send mail from outside the state? Will the state have the authority to collect fines from these companies if they are not in violation of federal law? We doubt it. Has the Legislature asked for comment from the Federal Trade Commission?
We don't doubt Mr. Hevesi's good intentions, but we do doubt the wisdom of this bill. Companies use junk mail and phone calls because they generate billions of dollars in sales. In turn, these companies pay salaries and taxes. That's how the free market works. We are still enjoying an era of national and local prosperity. Hevesi and others should think twice about doing anything that would put the brakes on that economic growth.
Good will to men
As we enter the holiday season, as a nation we are bruised by one of the most divisive elections this nation has ever experienced. This is a good time, then, to take stock of all the things that unite us in a borough that is a microcosm of the world.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or all three, the Times/Ledger family wishes you and your family all the joys and blessings of this holiday season.
©2000 Community Newspaper Group
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