The Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America said an intensive lobbying effort paid off when it brokered an 11th-hour exemption for trade associations to the anti-“SPAM” bill conference report passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week.
Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), in a speech on the House floor, said that associations, such as IIABA, were not the target of the legislation, which is intended to reduce unsolicited, commercial e-mail. It is the position of IIABA that e-mails sent to membership lists should be permitted, since the individuals on those lists have opted voluntarily to receive e-mail and other communications from their association when they joined and are not chosen randomly to receive electronic communications.
Burr’s language will be printed in the Congressional Record, the official transcript of Congressional proceedings, and can be referenced at any point when the exemption status of IIABA, Big “I” state associations, or any other qualifying organization or association is called into question over the transmission of e-mail. IIABA took the lead to work with Burr and a number of House members on this issue to protect its ability to communicate with its members via e-mail.
IIABA began pushing for this exemption in June after the Senate Commerce Committee passed its version of the “CAN-SPAM” bill, which was introduced in the House as H.R. 2214 and in the Senate as S. 877.
The legislation’s intent is to prosecute senders of unsolicited, false or misleading bulk commercial e-mail. Big “I” representatives met with members of Congress and their staffs to explain that, while the need to combat “SPAM” was more necessary than ever, the initial legislation had unintentionally targeted trade associations and professional organizations sending e-mail to their members who had voluntarily joined.
In September, IIABA submitted draft language to the bills’ leading cosponsors extending the definition of “commercial transaction and relationship messages.” Under this definition, both bills offered exemptions for relationships that are business in nature, such as a person receiving updates from their company-sponsored HMOs, their credit card companies, or any other business-type relationship in which recipients have opted in.
IIABA’s language extended the definition to include all not-for-profit professional and trade associations and their wholly-owned subsidiaries that actively contribute to the furtherance of the associations’ tax-exempt status.
During negotiations over the bill, the House Commerce Committee included the portion of the IIABA language that provided for the addition of the word “membership” in the bill’s definition of commercial transaction and relationship messages. This technical correction exempted from the bill’s definition of “SPAM” e-mail that is sent to recipients who have opted in. Burr’s clarification on Monday solidified this distinction.
In an important related development, IIABA also persuaded Congress not to grant the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforcement authority over the insurance industry. Instead, the legislation reinforces state regulatory authority, keeping insurance oversight firmly in the hands of state regulators. The provision was of concern to IIABA because other areas of financial services, such as banks, are not subject to FTC oversight, and the provision would have created the potential for inconsistencies in enforcement of the overall measure.
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