Supreme Court decision raises hopes for a fair retail marketplace
By Renée Sunde, President/CEO
The U.S. Supreme Court recently gave retailers hope that a decade-long fight for national sales tax fairness could be nearing an end. The nation’s highest court decided to consider whether fast-growing online sellers should be required to collect and remit sales taxes to the states where their customer live.
We at the Washington Retail Association hope for a swift decision by the court and Congress. The state Legislature is moving rapidly on a host of bills during this short 60-day session that also will affect retailers. The sooner retailers learn the outcome of national sales tax reform, the better they will be able to chart their futures.
An outdated 25-year old decision in a North Dakota court case ruled that states could not require out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax unless they had a physical presence in the state. In that case, the court felt that sales tax laws across the country were too complicated in the 1980s for retailers to know how much tax to collect unless they were operating where their customers live.
Today it would only seem reasonable that that decision needs to be dusted off and updated. The Internet of 25 years ago is now a fast-growing tool for worldwide retail sales.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court decided to hear an appeal by the South Dakota Attorney General to overrule the physical presence requirement that established precedent long before the Internet matured into the force it is in retail today. The High Court also urged Congress to address the issue through legislative means.
As online sales have boomed, retailers have been unsuccessfully urging Congress to address the unfair competitive price advantage many online sellers have by not requiring them to collect sales taxes from their out-of-state customers. The unbalanced marketplace already has cost jobs at traditional brick-and-mortar stores, many of which have closed after losing business to more affordable online sellers.
Though the timing of a possible Supreme Court ruling is uncertain, a few key considerations are certain.
The first is that the Supreme Court’s deliberations need to be based in fairness. Online and brick-and-mortar sellers are, in the end, all retailers who should compete in a fair and level marketplace. To its credit, Seattle-based Amazon.com recognizes the need for change and has begun collecting and remitting taxes to the states where its customers live. Today’s sophisticated software allows retailers to determine how much tax to collect regardless of where a customer lives.
Secondly, this issue can’t be solved by the Supreme Court alone. It will take Congress to fully engage with this issue and pass a law that will spell out how to bring competitive fairness to all retailers.
As retailers await the Supreme Court’s conclusion, at least they have renewed hope of ending the long and frustrating fight to modernize the nation’s sales tax rules.
We’re holding a ribbon cutting from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. next week Thursday, but it’ll be a lot more than that.
The past several months, we’ve been expanding our offices at 618 Quince S.E. in Olympia to accommodate the growth of our staff. Besides showing off our new and improved spaces, we’ll have more to offer visitors.
There will be food plates to greet you as well as a chance to meet Renée Sunde, our new CEO who joined us from the City of Olympia last fall. Visitors will get a chance to learn a bit more about our work as well as network with business leaders and retailers on our board of directors, who will have been meeting with legislators in Olympia earlier in the day.
We’ll also be holding a special dedication to rename our offices.
Please click here to register for the festivities. We at WRA are looking forward to hosting you and talking about our work and plans to serve our industry and become more engaged in communities across the state.
Concerns raised over untrained counselors treating industrial injury cases have been heard
By Tammie Hetrick, Chief Operating Officer
WRA is testifying in opposition to two bills this session that would include untrained marriage and other counselors in the treatment regimen for injured workers suffering from mental health challenges.
This is a risk to patients and will result in excessive new costs to the state’s workers’ compensation system and ill-managed claims. Counselors do not receive more specialized training required of psychiatrists and psychologists who follow principles of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
WRA took a lead position within the business community testifying in opposition to SB 6448 by explaining concerns over the protection for both injured workers and employers. I have addressed this issue with several legislators in both the House and Senate.
It appears legislators have heard WRA’s concerns. The bill was “pulled” from the House Labor committee agenda (but could be resurrected) and it appears that Senators are evaluating this further before moving this legislation forward. It is possible we will see a workgroup during the interim to evaluate this further.
Pay Equity continues to move
Meanwhile, we continue to be concerned about a couple of pay equity bills working their way through the Legislature’s committee process. The bills are 2SHB 1506 and SB 5140. Chief among our concerns is amending the bills to prohibit municipalities throughout the state from creating a patchwork on equal pay requirements depending upon the varying tastes and standards of individual local governments.
The business community is working with legislators on both sides of the aisle to streamline administrative and legal challenges under the bill, to eliminate unintended impacts to training and advancement opportunities within businesses, to align the statute of limitations with current wage laws, and to pre-empt local governments from adopting conflicting policies. In the bill’s current form, it could lead to increased litigation and unnecessary curtailment of useful programs within businesses.
We are working hard to get reasonable modifications to this legislation and hope to have a resolution soon.
After Washington State cut off all funding to promote tourism in 2011, a bill to begin recovering from the past recession is gaining support in the Legislature.
WRA is among the associations and agencies supporting SB 5251. It would dedicate a small portion of state sales tax revenues toward rebuilding a statewide tourism promotion effort.
The Lens, the online news source of the Business Institute of Washington, has carried an article about the bill gaining support. It reports growing support because of the need to promote retail activity and tourism in rural Washington, where economies are marginal with unemployment rates higher than urban markets. Click here to read the story.
WRA weighs in on more bills as session proceeds
Today is Day 17 of the 2018 Legislature’s 60-day session.
WRA’s team of lobbyists continues to anticipate, react and testify as more bills get hearings in committees. Here is a summary of some of the key bills we’re watching that could wind up affecting retailers:
- HB 1298 is headed for quick approval. It would prohibit employers from asking applicants about arrests or convictions before determining their qualifications for a job. WRA is monitoring the process while remaining neutral on the bill.
- WRA is monitoring a series of bills addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. Outcomes are uncertain at this time regarding SB 5996, SB 6313 and SB 6471. The bills address employees’ rights to file complaints and the development of policies to ensure non-abusive work environments.
- Organized retail crime. SB 5633 would allow store security and law enforcement to question suspicious shoppers who hide merchandise before paying or fleeing a store without paying. WRA supports the bill as a necessary new tool to combat the growth of organized retail crime.
- HB 1300 and SB 5527 would force retailers to hire the independent contractors upon whom they rely for a variety of services including product delivery and installation. A labor committee has conducted a hearing on the Senate bill.
- SB 6048 and SB 5025 would raise the legal age for tobacco and vapor consumption to 21 in Washington State. WRA opposes both bills because they would reduce sales and encourage shoppers to shop at out-of-state and internet providers.
HB 1047 would create a system for safe and secure collection and disposal of unwanted medications. WRA is monitoring debate but wants participation to be voluntary with a prohibition against municipalities adopting different requirements.
Register for WRA’s upcoming free webinars
Now’s the time to register and save a date for WRA’s free upcoming webinars on a series of helpful topics. Five webinars currently are planned in February, March, April, and May.
The topics range from preparing for severe weather emergencies and obtaining technical assistance for government contracting, to recovering from a weather emergency and reducing your business’ exposure to cybersecurity threats.
Click here to learn more and register.
Safety tip of the week
OSHA injury reporting period starts next week
Many of our members have to maintain annual accident logs for the prior year. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration exempts many sorts of businesses from this reporting requirement depending on their risk class. Retail members with 10 or fewer employees are exempt, but our larger retailers and all automotive members will need to report.
Go here to see if you are exempt from reporting or contact Rick Means, WRA’s Safety Specialist, if you have questions.
If you have to report, you should have the OSHA 300 form updated with ‘recordable’ incidents for all of 2017. For a decision tree on what are considered recordable incidents, go here. The next step would be to transfer the OSHA 2017 log (form 300) totals onto the OSHA Summary sheet (300A). The OSHA summary sheet, form 300A, will need to be posted from 2/1/2018 until 04/30/2018 on the safety bulletin board for all employees to review. If you need forms go here.
Washington State is currently exempt from electronic reporting of the 300A form.
The OSHA 300 form, a copy of the 300A form, and any other supporting paperwork, such as copies of the Report of Accidents, should be kept in a binder in your office due to privacy of the information that is contained on some of that paperwork. You need to keep five years of these forms on file (2012 and back can be tossed).
WRA employs Rick Means as a Safety Specialist who is available to members to help draw up safety plans and suggest topics for safety meetings. Contact him at 360-943-9198 x18, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WRA diversity statement
It’s essential to have a holistic strategic plan for diversity and inclusion. We encourage everyone to consider having a plan that connects with diverse people; creates a diverse workforce; fosters an inclusive work environment where different perspectives are valued; partners to share time, talent, and resources with our staff and with communities; and communicates these values with others.
In principle and in practice, we value access to leadership opportunity regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, nationality, disability, appearance, geographic location, or professional level. The association strives to accomplish this by serving as a model where we are working to help our staff, our volunteer leaders, our members, and our community embrace these principles.