LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP: No news is good news

Little action on bills expected for rest of year

Few, if any, bills are expected to reach the House or Senate floors in the final months of the 106th Congress. “It appears that none of the privacy bills or other bills of concern to catalogers will go to the floor this year, so we’re not too worried,” says Richard Barton, senior vice president, congressional affairs for the Direct Marketing Association. Below, a brief synopsis of those bills of interest to catalogers:

Internet Discrimination Act (H.R. 3709): This is actually one bill that catalogers wish that Congress would pass. A moratorium on taxes from sales placed over the Internet expires in October 2001. In May, however, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of this measure to extend the moratorium through 2006.

But the bill has stalled in the Senate in recent months, and it’s unlikely to be passed to the president this year. “Unlike the House, the Senate seems to want to take a deeper look at sales-tax and use-tax collection on the Internet,” says the DMA’s vice president, catalog issues, Roscoe Starek.

Moreover, proposed legislation that favors Internet sales tax collection appears to be gaining momentum. “The sales tax is the backbone of most state budgets and the foundation for the funding of education, police, fire, and transportation needs in our communities,” Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AK) said at a House subcommittee hearing in late June about a bill (H.R. 4462) he had just introduced. Bachus’s bill and a comparable bill sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) call for Web sales tax collection to begin once the moratorium expires.

Postal Modernization Act (H.R. 22): Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) first introduced this bill four years ago. But as in the previous three Congresses, the bill isn’t expected to make it to the floor of the House.

Privacy Commission Act (H.R. 4049): Introduced by Rep. Tim Hutchinson (R-AR) and Rep. James Moran (D-VA), this legislation, which was reported by the Committee on Government Reform to the full House in early July, would create a commission on privacy to study all kinds of privacy issues, including opt-in vs. opt-out.

One bill of interest to direct marketers was signed into law on June 30: the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (S.761). The new law gives Internet transactions legal status through signatures transmitted electronically; in other words, electronic signatures carry the same validity as written ones. “We think it’s a good thing, because it’ll formalize the ability to get signatures over the Internet for transactions,” the DMA’s Barton says. “To the extent it could speed up business-to-business purchase order transactions, it could help catalogers.”

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