THE VACATION is over.

And I don't mean Spring Break.

I mean the vacation from the automated political telephone calls that invaded households last year and infuriated many voters.

Another political season is here and - as some of you are already aware - robocalls are back!

The automated calls cost pennies and enable cash-conscious candidates to customize messages for specific audiences. But the strategy was so abused during last year's elections that legislation was proposed in many states - including Pennsylvania - to ban them.

So far, automated calls have been used by most of Philadelphia's mayoral candidates for limited reasons, according to their campaign spokespeople.

* Tom Knox has sent automated invitations to his free meet-the-candidate dinners.

* Michael Nutter has used them on two occasions to advise homeowners he was giving away free smoke detectors.

* Dwight Evans has used them to alert residents that volunteers would be canvassing the neighborhood in a few days.

* Chaka Fattah has used them but his spokesman declined to say for what purpose.

* Bob Brady hasn't used them - yet. "People don't want to be inundated early on because they get frustrated," said press secretary Kate Philips. "There's definitely a use for them but there's also a time."

Notice of free food and smoke detectors probably aren't going to annoy recipients the way calls that spew self-serving rhetoric or attack an opponent do.

And it seems unlikely - or so you'd hope - that the mayoral candidates will stoop to using robocalls as dirty tricks, the way some candidates did last year.

In the most notorious local incident, a robocall began with a woman sobbing - alarming some recipients who believed a loved one was in trouble - and then turned into a vicious attack on U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz.

That did it for state Rep. Michael McGeehan.

He introduced legislation that would enable residents to include political calls on their Do Not Call directive; the original laws that forbid telemarketers to make unwelcome sales calls exempted political messages as "free speech."

"We've heard from people all over the state. The problem is all-pervasive," McGeehan said when he introduced the legislation earlier this year.

"It has interrupted people's sleep, it has interrupted people's dinner, it has invaded their homes; it's the equivalent of telephone stalking, and it needs to end."

McGeehan's bill was sent to the State Government Committee, chaired by Philadelphia Rep. Babette Josephs - who was ambivalent about its fate.

"I know there's a First Amendment argument going to be made," she told me this week.

"I also know that people are annoyed by robocalls. And I do think politicians don't want to annoy their future voters, so I think that if it turns out there's general dissatisfaction and annoyance among voters, I think people will stop."

Josephs stopped short of saying she didn't support the bill, however, saying, "I see merits on both sides."

"I just have to look at those bills when we get to them."

In any case, robocalls will be around for the duration of this political season, to be sure.

So for those of us who find them an irritating invasion of privacy, I'm sorry to say:

The vacation is over. *

E-mail porterj@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5850. For recent columns: