This Week in Tech: House panel eyes online sales tax

The House Judiciary Committee will turn its attention Wednesday to creating a sales tax system for online purchases.

Currently, states can only compel retailers to collect sales tax on residents’ online purchases when a retailer has a physical location in their state. But the Senate last year passed the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would empower states to collect online sales tax from all retailers over a certain size.

Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has said he wants to take a measured approach to the sales tax issue and in September released a set of seven principles that any online sales tax bill would require to be considered by his panel.

{mosads}Witnesses for Wednesday’s hearing include Chris Cox, counsel at NetChoice, which represents companies such as eBay; Joe Crosby, principal at MultiState Associates; and Andrew Moylan, senior fellow at the R Street Institute. The committee will also hear testimony from sales tax attorneys.

Crosby plans to tell lawmakers they should require states to simplify their sales tax requirements to make it easier for out-of-state online retailers to comply with other jurisdictions’ tax codes. He pointed to a current agreement between 24 states to simplify their tax codes and ease compliance burdens.

“If more than 24 states had joined into that, perhaps we wouldn’t be talking about this anymore,” he said.

Cox will urge the committee to consider only proposals that would treat retailers equally, according to NetChoice Executive Director Steve DelBianco.

“NetChoice will present an alternative that treats all businesses the same, whether brick-and-mortar, catalog, or online, by subjecting each to the rates, rules, and audits in only the states where they are located,” DelBianco said in a statement. “It will meet all of the Committee principles and return taxes on remote sales to the state where purchasers reside.”

Also on Wednesday, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will take a crack at updating federal law for satellite TV. The hearing, which was delayed by winter weather, will feature testimony from cable, broadcast and satellite company executives.

Communications subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) last week released draft legislation to reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which makes a handful of changes to the existing ways that cable and satellite companies retransmit broadcast channels. The effort is likely to run into opposition from consumer advocates, who have worried that it leaves in place too many protections for broadcasters. STELA is set to expire at the end of the year, and the reauthorization is considered a must-pass piece of legislation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday on “reinvigorating the Freedom of Information Act for the digital age” featuring anti-secrecy advocates and representatives from the Justice Department and the National Archives.

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the portion of the law that protects websites with material that infringes on copyrights. The law requires that companies take down the offending material after receiving notice.

Across the pond, the European Parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday will debate and vote on separate measures to beef up safeguards for European citizens’ data and respond to disclosures of National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance.

Surveillance will also receive attention at the South By Southwest music festival, which on Monday will hear from NSA leaker Edward Snowden via webcast.

The Americans Civil Liberties Union is sponsoring the event, where Snowden will answer questions from two officials at the civil liberties group.

Also on Monday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will deliver remarks on “a new agenda to grow the U.S. economy” at Google’s Washington headquarters. The speech is centered on “American innovation” and will likely take a tech focus.

On Tuesday, officials from Public Knowledge, AARP, TechFreedom, the National Consumers Law Center, and policy consulting firm A Learned Hand will participate in a Capitol Hill panel on telephone companies’ attempt to update their service, known as the Internet Protocol Transition.

Clarissa Ramon, a government affairs associate at Public Knowledge, said in a statement that the event would focus on “the ways we can move into a new era of more efficient communications, while protecting consumers.”

Later that day, CEOs from companies like Dell, Xerox, Motorola and IBM will take part in a roundtable discussion on ways to grow “the data economy.” The event, hosted by the Technology CEO Council, will also feature the heads of Qualcomm, Micron Technology and EMC Corporation, as well as the president of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

“We stand at the cusp of a Data Economy that is beginning to enable huge benefits for consumers, business, government, healthcare, education and the environment,” Ursula Burns, the head of Xerox and the new chief of the CEO council, said in a statement. To take advantage of that “new natural resource,” she added, trade need to be expanded, taxes need to be reformed and more attention needs to be paid to science and math education.

Tags Bob Goodlatte Online sales tax STELA United States House Committee on the Judiciary
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