A bipartisan group of lawmakers has reintroduced the Marketplace Fairness Act in another effort to bring more consistency to the imposition of state sales and use taxes on online purchases.

The act would give states the right to require out-of-state businesses selling online or via catalogs to collect state sales taxes on purchases sold into their states. The bill provides states the authority to enforce existing sales and use tax laws, if they choose to do so, by adopting either one of two options. The Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA) allows any state that is a member of SSUTA to require remote sellers to collect state and local sales and use taxes; or with Alternative Minimum Simplification Requirements, states that are not SSUTA members could require remote retailers to collect state and local sales and use taxes if they adopt the minimum simplification requirements outlined in the bill. There is also a “small seller exception” prohibiting states from requiring remote sellers with less than $1 million in annual nationwide remote sales to collect sales and use taxes. According to figures from the Small Business Administration, 99 percent of online sellers would fit into this "small" category and only a few would be required to collect and remit sales taxes with a $1million small seller exemption.

The original Marketplace Fairness Act managed to pass the Senate in 2013 but never advanced beyond the committee stage in the House.

Senators Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., introduced the act in the Senate Thursday. It would give states the right to collect the sales and use taxes they are owed under current law from out-of-state businesses or online retailers. Cosponsors include Senators Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Mark Warner, D-Va., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Edward Markey, D-Mass., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D.

“The Marketplace Fairness Act is about supporting jobs and services we have in our towns while ensuring states have the ability to collect taxes they are owed, if they choose to,” Enzi said in a statement. “Right now, thousands of local brick and mortar businesses are forced to do business at a competitive disadvantage because they have to collect sales and use taxes and remote sellers do not. This legislation promotes internet fairness by putting Main Street businesses on a level playing field with online retailers. In 2013, the Senate passed this bill with bipartisan support. It’s time to give states the right to enforce their own laws without having to get permission from Washington.”

“By ensuring Internet retailers meet the same tax responsibility as local businesses, the Marketplace Fairness Act creates a level playing field and gives small business owners—our nation’s job creators—a real shot at success,” Durbin said in a statement.

In the House, Reps. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., led a group of lawmakers in reintroducing similar bipartisan legislation in the House. The bill there, known as the Remote Transactions Parity Act, aims to create a level playing field so Main Street stores and online retailers can compete fairly. Lead cosponsors include Reps. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., Steve Womack, R-Ark., Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, Lou Barletta, R-Pa., Jackie Speier, D-Calif., Peter Welch, D-Vt., and David Cicilline, D-R.I.

Seven major organizations representing state and local governments at the federal level—the National Governors Association, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, International City/County Management Association, National Conference of State Legislatures and The Council of State Governments—praised the introduction of the legislation in Congress. “We welcome the introduction of the Marketplace Fairness Act by Senator Mike Enzi and commend Representative Kristi Noem and her co-signers for introducing the Remote Transactions Parity Act,” they said in a joint statement Thursday. “We are pleased to see an appetite on Capitol Hill to address this crucial issue. We stand ready to work with the House and Senate to achieve passage of these measures and address any discrepancies during conference.”

The shopping center industry also hailed the legislation. “We are pleased that legislation was reintroduced in Congress this week to empower states to modernize their tax laws and provide parity to local businesses and the communities they serve,” said Tom McGee, president and CEO of the International Council of Shopping Centers, in a statement. “These important measures will fix an outdated tax loophole that currently gives online retailers a price advantage of up to 10 percent over brick-and-mortar stores, has shortchanged communities on much-needed sales tax revenue and overcomplicated our country’s current sales tax system.”

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Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.