U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer says a bill he introduced would increase penalties for nuisance telemarketing robocalls to $20,000 a call and up to 10 years in prison.
"I want to punish them," the New York Democrat told reporters in a teleconference announcing his proposed QUIET Act that would penalize telemarketing companies that violate federal telemarketing laws.
"Existing laws, including the federal do not call list, are great tools to protect consumers, but only if they have real teeth that will stop illegal robocalls in their tracks," Schumer said in a statement.
The proposed law -- officially called the Quell Unnecessary, Intentional and Encroaching Telephone Calls Act of 2014 -- would stiffen both financial and legal penalties to telemarketers that knowingly use robocalls to call cellphones or home phones.
The new fines would be $20,000 a violation, up from $1,500, and could include up to 10 years in prison "for the most egregious repeat offenders," Schumer said.
At present, convicted violators face no jail time.
The law would increase the crime's gravity to a felony from a misdemeanor.
Exceptions that already exist -- such as for charitable, health-related and emergency phone calls -- remain in his bill, Schumer said.
The Federal Trade Commission received 3.8 million complaints in the 2013 fiscal year, up 230 percent from the 1.6 million complaints it got in 2010. The number of complaints in 2003 was zero.
In New York state, the complaint jump was 275 percent, with the Hudson Valley region just north of New York City up more than 400 percent, Schumer said.
"When I heard this I knew if the robocallers weren't going to stop, I had to become the RoboCop," Schumer said in remarks quoted by the Gannett News Service.
It was not immediately clear what support the measure had among lawmakers.