By PETER URBAN
Stephens Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack’s recent push to have Internet retailers collect out-of-state sales taxes may be gaining ground in the Senate.
Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Michael Enzi, R-Wyoming, are working on legislation similar to the bill that Womack introduced two weeks ago with Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.
From the Sport Shop in Benton to giant Walmart, retailers are clamoring to close a loophole that allows online retailers to avoid collecting sales taxes.
A 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling exempted mail-order catalogs from having to collect sales taxes in states where they have no physical presence. That ruling has since applied to on-line stores like Amazon.
While states are still due the tax from purchasers, most people fail to pay — giving the on-line retailer a price advantage, complain the brick-and-mortar stores.
Womack, R-Rogers, introduced legislation in the House with Speier that would require most on-line retailers to collect sales taxes. There would be an exemption for small-sized retailers.
Durbin had previously introduced legislation to close the loophole but his approach had not attracted much support. He now appears to be shifting to an approach similar to the House bill.
"We are working now with interested parties and hope to have more to announce soon," said Max Gleishman, a spokesman for Durbin.
Gleishman said that Durbin has been hearing for a long time from Illinois businesses that believe it is unfair for them to have to collect sales taxes while online competitors do not.
"We want to make sure sales taxes owed at the time of sale are collected," Gleishman said.
Jim Jeffries, a spokesman for Alexander, confirmed that the senator is working with Durbin and Enzi on legislation that they hope to introduce soon.
Alexander sees this as a states’ rights issue, Jeffries said: "preserving the right of states to collect — or decide not to collect — taxes that are already owed under state law."
The issue had come to a boil in Tennessee after the state reached a deal with Amazon to build a distribution center there by exempting them from having to collect Tennessee sales taxes.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced earlier this month that a new deal had been struck with Amazon expanding employment at its Tennessee distribution centers and agreeing to start collecting state sales taxes in 15 months.
Womack said today that he was encouraged by the Senate discussions.
"I applaud Sens. Alexander and Enzi for recognizing the significance of this issue. Their support further emphasizes the need for a level playing field among businesses — both small and large, online and on Main Street," said Womack.