ABA President Steve Bercu Makes Case for E-Fairness at NRF Retail Advocates Summit

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On July 29 and 30, retailers from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., to participate in the National Retail Federation’s Retail Advocates Summit (previously known as the Washington Leadership Conference) to advocate on a number of key policy issues, including sales tax fairness. The conference draws a mix of senior government affairs executives from major companies, independent Main Street store owners, and state retail association officials, according to NRF.

Among the retailers attending the summit was ABA President Steve Bercu, co-owner of BookPeople in Austin, Texas.

At the summit, retailers were presented with briefings on policy issues and participated in NRF committee meetings, and then had a day of advocating for key issues on Capitol Hill. While noting that it can be hard to judge how effective a day of lobbying on the Hill is, Bercu did stress that “repetition helps, so the more they hear it the better. Since it is … staff that you meet with, it is tough to figure out … how the legislator will eventually vote.”

Retailers in the same congressional districts met with their senators and members of the House. Bercu said his group met with the offices of Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) and of Congressman Michael Burgess (R-Texas). They also met personally with Congressman Louis Gohmert (R-Texas).

Along with sales tax fairness, other topics of discussion included data security and debit card swipe fees, Bercu reported.

The e-fairness issue will likely pick up steam in late summer and early fall. In mid-July, the Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act (MITFA), which authorizes states to pass e-fairness legislation requiring remote retailers to collect and remit sales tax, was introduced in the Senate by Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Mark Pryor (D-AR).  MITFA combines the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA) with the House-passed Permanent Internet Freedom Act (PITFA), which prohibits states from taxing access to the Internet.

MITFA will likely be taken up in September when Congress returns from recess. If MITFA passes the Senate, it will then have to be reconciled in conference committee with the House version of the bill. At that point, it is unclear whether opponents of the MFA amendment would attempt to remove it from the legislation.

Bercu said that after the meetings he was even more convinced of the importance of the need for booksellers to “keep writing their members of Congress” in support of MITFA.

Also during the summit, NRF announced the formation of the Small Business Retail Council to organize, recruit, and engage Main Street merchants and independent community retailers in grassroots advocacy activities. In a press release, NRF noted “the Council will represent and be responsive to the needs, concerns and interests of local shops and provide the association’s small business members a forum to discuss the most pressing public policy issues and priorities.”

“We are bringing together some of the retail sector’s best small business leaders to build upon their integral role in drafting and shaping public policy,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Working with our state retail association partners, we hope to amplify the voice of small retailers in advancing the retail community’s agenda. The Small Business Retail Council will enhance and strengthen the partnership between small business owners and NRF, and optimize industry engagement on our common goals.”