By Michelle Graff

Washington, D.C.—The Jewelers of America Political Action Committee led a delegation of jewelers to D.C. last week for the sixth consecutive year, and returned with an update on the issue known as sales tax fairness.

For years, the jewelry industry, backed by JA, has been pushing Congress to pass legislation requiring e-tailers to collect sales tax on all transactions. Retailers, particularly jewelers, have argued for years that the fact that online sellers don’t have to collect sales tax in all 50 states puts brick-and-mortar businesses at a competitive disadvantage, as many consumers choose to buy online to save themselves money.

Two bills currently are circulating in Congress addressing the issue.

In the U.S. Senate, it’s the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), which was introduced in March 2015 by a group of four senators, two Democrat and two Republican. The MFA, which is nearly identical to legislation that made it through the Senate in 2013, is currently with the Senate finance committee.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, it’s the Remote Transactions Parity Act (RTPA), introduced in June 2015 by a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

While sales tax legislation has hit hurdles in the House in the past, momentum continues to build while resistance to the legislation seems to be waning.

Susan Posnock, JA’s director of public affairs and education, said the bill currently has about 65 sponsors, about half Democrat and half Republican. It is with the House Judiciary Committee, headed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

While it seems unlikely the bill will make it out of committee in this very contentious, and very unusual, election year, JA has high hopes for 2017 and beyond.

“I think it’s inevitable that it’s going to pass,” said Posnock, who’s been monitoring the issue for years. “It’s not if; it’s when. It has the support. It’s just a matter of the right timing and the right pressure.”

She said that JA will really be looking to push the issue in the fall, after the noise generated by the presidential election quiets down.

Posnock said the hope is that the Senate version of the legislation, the MFA, will pass in the lame-duck session following the election, and that the House version, the RTPA, will pass after the new administration is ushered in in 2017.

If this is the case, she noted that the Senate--which passed a sales tax fairness bill once already--will have to pass another version of the bill in the next Congress.

Both the House and the Senate will then have to reconcile the differences between their two bills and send it to the president for his, or her, signature.

Chris Fetzer of Haake Fetzer, the firm that leads JAPAC and JA legislative advocacy efforts in Washington, added that JA plans to continue to engage lawmakers in both chambers leading up to the November elections, in anticipation of the Senate’s floor consideration of the MFA during the lame-duck session.

He said that Senate passage of the MFA would increase pressure on the House to “afford sales tax fairness legislation long overdue consideration late this year as part of a larger legislative vehicle, and at a minimum, would position the broad coalition of industry and Congressional supporters to make passage of sales tax fairness legislation a Congressional priority in the next Congress.”

During their visit to Washington, members of the JAPAC delegation met with key supporters of legislation they say would level the playing field between online and brick-and-mortar businesses, including Reps. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), Mia Love (R-Utah), and Ted Poe (R-Texas), all cosponsors of the RTPA, and, on the Senate side, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who voted in favor of the measure when it passed in 2013.

They also talked with lawmakers about the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed changes to the Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries, emphasizing JA’s opposition to the use of the word “cultured” when describing lab-grown diamonds.

JA said that lawmakers, particularly Stivers, “expressed interest” in supporting the association’s position.

During the two days they spent in Washington, the JAPAC delegation also met with other members of Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the House Rules Committee, and Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), chairman of the Energy & Commerce Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the cultured diamond issue.

The JA members on the trip were:
Brian Alter, Alter’s Gem Jewelry, Beaumont, Texas (JA member);
Jon Bridge, Ben Bridge Jeweler, Seattle (JAPAC Board);
Jenny Caro, Jewelry by Designs, Woodbridge, Va. (JAPAC board chair, JA board);
Jeff and Jim Corey, Day’s Jewelers; Waterville, Maine (JAPAC board vice chair);
Ronda Daily, Bremer’s Jewelry; Peoria, Ill. (JA member);
Bill Farmer Jr., Farmer’s Jewelers; Lexington, Ky. (JAPAC board, JA board immediate past chairman);
Michael and Eva Greene, Wick & Greene, Asheville, N.C. (JA members); and
Brian Mann, David Mann Jewelers, Potomac, Md. (JA board).

Also in attendance were JA President and CEO David J. Bonaparte, Posnock, JA Executive Administration Manager Sharie Fogarty and Ret. U.S. Army Major Gen. Tim Haake and Fetzer of Haake Fetzer.

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