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Florida House approves repeal of outdated telegraph rules

Night time view of a Western Union telegraph office, c. 1933. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
Night time view of a Western Union telegraph office, c. 1933. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Obsolete rules about telegraph companies moved closer Thursday to being removed from state laws, more than a decade after Western Union Telegraph Co. sent its last telegram.

The Florida House voted 117-0 in support of the proposal (HB 6055) that seeks to eliminate penalties and liability provisions in state laws dealing with transmission of telegraph messages.

Noting that the most well-known telegraph service provider, Western Union, last dispatched a telegram on Jan. 27, 2006, a House staff analysis of the proposal said the laws “appear to be outdated and no longer applicable.”

In 2017, a Federal Communications Commission order removing “outmoded regulations” indicated the agency was not aware of any interstate telegraph service providers and declared telegraph service “obsolete.”

The House staff analysis said an internet search found a handful of businesses still advertise telegram services, but none of the businesses identified in the search was registered as operating in Florida.

The state rules were adopted in 1907 and have gone mostly unchanged since 1913. Under those rules, companies and individuals in Florida face penalties for failing to transmit or receive legible messages in a timely manner, and they can be liable for any “mental anguish and physical suffering” for failing to promptly or correctly deliver telegrams.

An identical Senate proposal (SB 1256) has received unanimous support in two committees and awaits a hearing by the Rules Committee before heading to the floor for a full vote.