ONLINE SALES TAX BILL PASSES SENATE, FACES UNCERTAIN FUTURE IN HOUSE
The U.S. Senate on Monday voted 69-27 to pass S. 743, the Marketplace Fairness Act. The bill, which would allow states to collect taxes from online sales, sailed through the Senate with bipartisan support but faces a more complicated path in the House. Alabama's two U.S. senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, voted for the bill.
The Senate bill and its House companion, H.R 684, seek to end sales tax disparity by giving states the authority to require remote and online sellers to collect sales and use tax at the point of purchase. The bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee, where the chairman, U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has gone on record with reservations to the bill and indicated the committee will make changes to the Senate-passed bill.
The legislation's opponents refer to the collection of online sales tax as a new tax; however, it is merely the enforcement and collection of a tax that is already owed. There simply is not a level playing field between brick-and-mortar retailers, particularly small businesses, and out-of-state retailers, who are not required to pay the same taxes.
Governor Robert Bentley is supportive of the legislation and has urged Alabama's congressional delegation to support it. The president has said he will sign the bill should it make it to his desk.
Passage of this legislation is a priority of the BCA.
AL.com reports "that U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, said he expects a healthy debate in the House of Representatives over legislation that would allow states to begin taxing Internet sales. Bachus is one of 29 co-sponsors of the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act, which could be debated in the House beginning this week. Bachus leads the Judiciary subcommittee that is expected to get first crack at the bill.
'It has long been my personal view that the current collection system is complicated and not very workable," Bachus said'."
Bloomberg reported comments from other Alabama federal legislators:
"I know that it's important to the states," said U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville. In a brief interview yesterday he said he hasn't decided whether the bill is akin to a tax increase or would be perceived as one. "But certainly, anything that resembles a tax, we tread very lightly."
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, said he probably wouldn't make up his mind until the day of a vote, Bloomberg reported. He said he was concerned about the potential economic costs for fledgling online retailers. "I always give weight to the views of Alabama's elected officials," he said in a brief interview yesterday. "But ultimately, I have to decide based on what I believe is best for America."
"I believe this is an issue of fairness," Bloomberg quoted U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery. She said Bentley mentioned the issue as a priority during a meeting with the state's congressional delegation in Washington. "It's money that's already owed to the state, so it's not a tax increase."
STEEL-STATE SENATORS FORM CAUCUS
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and senators from two other steel-producing states have formed the Senate Steel Caucus to promote domestic steel production and manufacturing, a $75-billion industry. Sessions issued a statement along with Caucus members Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Va., Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. Sessions and Rockefeller will be co-chairs and Brown and Toomey will serve as vice-chairs, according to a statement from Sessions. The statement said the Caucus will serve as a forum for policy discussions on issues affecting the nation's steel industry. The steel industry employs 153,700 people in more than 100 facilities. In 2012, the American steel industry produced shipments valued at $75 billion, Sessions said.
Sessions said the mission of the Caucus is to ensure fair, lawful trade and to create a climate conducive to private sector growth and good paying jobs: "The steel industry has long been a foundational industry for Alabama's economy and the nation's. Despite unfair and illegal trade practices from foreign competitors, American steel remains strong even during these tough economic times. But the legitimate interests of the American worker must be defended on the world stage. A renaissance of American manufacturing starts with steel. The critical mission of this caucus is to focus on the steel industry which is critical to our national security and economic growth."
ALABAMA'S POLITICAL CLOUT GREATER THAN ITS POPULATION
Roll Call's "Clout Index" reports that Alabama's political influence in Washington is 16th among the 50 states, while its population is 23rd. According to David Hawkings, Gulf Coast states "have much more stroke than ever before." California, of course, is No. 1, but Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, are right behind. The congressional delegation from Mississippi - 31st in population - was 15th highest in clout, barely edging Alabama. "Taken together, the numbers are a powerful signal that the region is better positioned than ever before to get what it wants out of Congress the next time a natural disaster strikes. Its lawmakers will have an easier time triumphing over the budget-cutting conservative sentiments in the House that so famously slowed the delivery of the Superstorm Sandy federal relief package to the Northeast for a dozen weeks."
Each state's measure of potential influence in Congress is based on the size of its delegation, the number of lawmakers in the majority caucuses, the delegation's collective Senate and House seniority, whether any top leaders hail from the state, its ranks of committee chairmen and ranking minority party members, its assignments to the most influential committees and the amount of federal spending per capita in the state, Roll Call said.
SHELBY ANNOUNCES FINAL PASSAGE OF CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL BILL
Members of Alabama's congressional delegation sponsored legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal in honor of four girls who were killed in a Birmingham church bombing 50 years ago. The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation's highest civilian honor. The House approved H.R. 360 on April 24 and the Senate concurred on Thursday.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., sponsored the Senate version of the bill to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to Addie Mae Collins, 14, Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14. They were killed when a bomb exploded Sept. 15, 1963, at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.
The House bill was introduced by U.S. Reps. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, and Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, in January.
Shelby, a Republican from Tuscaloosa, gained the co-sponsorship of over two-thirds of his colleagues for the passage of H.R. 360: "As the 50th anniversary of this tragedy approaches, I believe that awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award bestowed upon civilians by the United States Congress, is an appropriate way to honor the memories of the victims," Shelby said. "Their deaths continue to serve as a reminder of the struggle for freedom and equality for which many sacrificed their lives."
Sewell, in a statement, said, "Today, I am thrilled that the Senate passed H.R. 360, the Congressional Gold Medal Bill, to honor the lives of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. I am especially grateful for the efforts of Senator Shelby and Senator Sessions that made the passage of this bill a reality. With the President's signature, this nation will finally honor the sacrifices of these four little girls that ignited the spark which led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is befitting that we bestow the highest civilian honor posthumously to them for the 50th Anniversary of the church bombing as we recognize and pay tribute to those who fought for justice and equality for all."
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said: "The 50th anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing marks one of the most tragic events in our state's history and the impetus for immense social and cultural change. We will never forget those young innocent lives, murdered because of the color of their skin. Birmingham is to be commended for the way it has fully acknowledged the enormity of this wrong in its past and has been a leader worldwide in the promotion of racial reconciliation. An excellent example of that, among others, is the "Birmingham Pledge" which calls on all people to treat everyone with dignity and respect and to end social prejudice. This Congressional Gold Medal is a lasting tribute to their precious memory."
Bachus commented: "This is momentous recognition of the legacy of four beautiful little girls who, in losing their lives far too early, made a lasting contribution to the civil rights movement and in doing so changed America permanently. Our Alabama delegation has worked together to bring the Congressional Gold Medal legislation to this point and that should be a great source of pride. It is most fitting to have this recognition and reconciliation come as the City of Birmingham commemorates the 50th anniversary of historic civil rights events that helped extend the protections of the U.S. Constitution to so many who had been deprived of them."
House approves private-sector, time-off legislation
Al.com (Walsh 5/9) reports: "The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 (H.R. 1406) yesterday, by a vote of 223-204. The proposed legislation now heads to the Senate. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-AL, would offer private sector employees a compensation choice that public employees have had since 1985: an option to convert pay for overtime hours worked into paid time off, also known as "comp time."
House to vote to repeal 'Obamacare' next week
The Hill (Baker, Viebeck, 5/9) "The House will vote yet again next week to repeal the Affordable Care Act, as GOP leaders try to help their freshmen stake out a firmly anti-ObamaCare voting record. Some conservatives balked at a bill last month that they saw as a 'fix' to the healthcare law, saying freshmen shouldn't be asked to vote on smaller measures until they've had a chance to cast a purely symbolic vote for full repeal. That chance will come next week, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said.
"Although conservatives are getting the repeal vote they wanted, some of them said they still won't back the "fix" bill Cantor pulled from the floor last month. The bill would cut the healthcare law's prevention fund and use the money to beef up high-risk insurance pools. Some Republican lawmakers say they just can't live with that, repeal vote or not.
"No, I don't think we ought to return to a bill that would expand parts of ObamaCare, whether or not we have the vote next week on full repeal," Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said. "The principle is the same: Do you want more federal government involvement in healthcare or less? And I don't think it would be appropriate to return to that bill."
Cyber crime to get attention
The Hill (Basso, Martinez 5/9) "A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday introduced legislation aimed at cracking down on cyber espionage and the theft of valuable data from American companies. The bill is one of the first pieces of cyber security-focused legislation to be introduced in the Senate.
"The bill, the Defer Cyber Theft Act, would require the director of National Intelligence to produce an annual report that lists which foreign countries conduct cyber espionage against American companies or individuals, as well as technologies targeted by cyber spies, among other information. The report will also include a "priority watch list" of the countries accused of engaging in widespread espionage against the United States.
"Additionally, the bill would require the president to block imports of products containing technology siphoned from the U.S.
"We need to call out those who are responsible for cyber theft and empower the president to hit the thieves where it hurts most - in their wallets, by blocking imports of products or from companies that benefit from this theft," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. Levin introduced the bill with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jay Rockefeller (D-West Va.), and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).
"The bill's introduction comes ahead of a Senate Judiciary subpanel hearing on Wednesday that will examine law enforcement and private-sector responses to cyber threats. It will look at the resources and strategy that the Justice Department and FBI employ to respond to cybercrime, as well as how the private sector can help in that effort."