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Ivey applauds Supreme Court opinion allowing states, localities to collect sales taxes from online retailers

Brandon Moseley

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On Thursday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) said that the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to help states and local governments collect sales taxes from e-commerce retailers, “Will facilitate collections in our global, technology-driven economy.”

On Thursday the Court overturned a 1992 ruling that had made it very difficult for states to require online retailers to charge their customers sales taxes. The court found in favor of the state of South Dakota in today’s ruling in the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair.

“Technology and the advent of e-commerce has drastically changed the retail landscape and the states’ ability to collect sales taxes,” Governor Ivey said. “The Supreme Court’s ruling related to online sales taxes is a common-sense approach that modernizes existing limitations on the taxation of e-commerce sales and will facilitate collections in our global, technology-driven economy. The change effected by the Court’s decision will promote parity between our state’s brick and mortar businesses and competing out-of-state sellers.”

The ruling freed states and local governments to start collecting billions of dollars in new sales taxes from online retailers, overturning a 1992 ruling that had made much of the internet a tax-free zone. Traditional retailers have said that they have been at a disadvantage because their online competitors did not have to charge sales taxes,
The sales taxes are still due and technically Alabama citizens are supposed to keep a record of their online purchases and then pay the sales tax with the rest of their taxes; but very few people know of that,

The court’s 1992 decision involving catalog sales had shielded retailers from tax-collection duties if they didn’t have a physical presence in a state.

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Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote today’s narrow 5 to 4 decision for the majority.

Kennedy wrote that the 1992 ruling, Quill versus North Dakota, was obsolete in the e-commerce era.

It is estimated that today’s ruling will allow state and local governments to collect anywhere from an additional $8 billion to as much as $23 billion a year in additional taxes.

It is not clear at this time if this might give international sites an advantage over domestically located retailers. Items such as e-books, software, movies, songs, etc. are increasingly marketed as downloads rather than an item that is shipped in the mail.

It is also not clear how this affects marketplace web sites that bring buyer and seller together, like E-bay.

“Today’s ruling is limited to large online retailers and confirms that small businesses are clearly viewed differently by the court,” EBay said in an email. “Now is the time for Congress to provide clear tax rules with a strong small business exemption.”

It is also not clear if the states can make this retroactive and sue online retailers for years of uncollected sales taxes.

The value of Wayfair stock dropped on the news.

Only five states do not impose sales taxes.

Amazon had already begun charging sales taxes; but thousands of online retailers, notably Overstock.com, do not,
Rates vary from state to state and even from town to town. Also many states do not charge sales taxes on items like foodstuffs. Alabama does charge sales tax on food; but not on certain seeds and agricultural products.

Then Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) had strongly lobbied Congress for legislation allowing states to tax e-commerce during his first term; but the Congress never passed that legislation.

The state of Alabama is looking forward to increased sales tax collections after Thursday’s ruling.  Alabama consumers may have to expect to pay five to ten percent more for their online purchases than they are now.

(Original reporting by Bloomberg News’s Greg Stohr contributed to this report.)

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ACLU sues John Merrill for blocking followers on Twitter

Chip Brownlee

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Secretary of State John Merrill is facing a lawsuit over his blocking of individuals on Twitter.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Merrill Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2018, on behalf of three Alabama citizens who say they were blocked on Merrill’s Twitter. They say an elected official shouldn’t be allowed to block constituents on Twitter because it’s a violation of their First Amendment rights under the Constitution.

“It is upsetting to me that the Secretary of State, who primarily uses his Twitter account to disseminate information on issues related to his office, has also weaponized that account by blocking those with whom he disagrees politically,” said Kimberly Fasking, a plaintiff in the case. “It is not the Secretary of State’s job to communicate only with those who agree with him, but with all of the people of the State of Alabama. I am disappointed that I no longer have ready access to information from the Secretary of State’s office in a way that allows me to engage meaningfully on topics that I find incredibly important.”

Fasking, along with the other plaintiffs in the case, are all residents and registered voters in Alabama, according to the initial court filing and the ACLU.

Fasking is a law student at the University of Alabama and says she was blocked after asking about crossover voting, while Heather Melvin Boothe, a second plaintiff, was blocked for stating “Good point! Ballot has major typo.”

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The third plaintiff, Herbert Hicks, a farmer and educator, was blocked after asking Merrill about a speaking engagement.

Merill quickly responded to the lawsuit Tuesday in a statement.

“The lawsuit filed today by the ACLU of Alabama is an attempted political hack job,” Merrill said. “Members of this liberal group are attempting to create an issue concerning lack of access to public officials that simply does not exist. As every member of the media and general public who interacts with this office knows, the most important thing for an elected official to do is to remain accessible to the people of this state. That is why I always make my cell number — 334.328.2787 — available to all Alabamians.”

Merrill does regularly release his phone number and responds inquiries.

The ACLU says Merrill’s Twitter account, @JohnHMerrill, is used “regularly to discuss Alabama election law, inform about his duties as Alabama Secretary of State, remind the public about upcoming elections, and generally engage with the citizens of Alabama.”

They argue that because of the way he uses this account, even if it’s personal, it has become an important source of news and information regarding Alabama elections and election law.

Merrill said in his statement that his account’s personal nature excludes him from a recent federal court ruling that held President Donald Trump’s blocking of followers on Twitter violated the First Amendment.

“Further, the account in question — @JohnHMerrill — is exclusively my account, while the account @alasecofstate is the state’s public account, and this account has never blocked anyone from viewing any of the posts on its page,” Merrill said. “The @JohnHMerrill account has remained a personal account since its creation, in October 2009.”

The lawsuit resulting in a federal ruling against Trump was filed by Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute and seven of his former followers whom Trump blocked on Twitter.

After the federal court ruling regarding Trump’s account, Merrill told the Montgomery Advertiser that he would continue to block followers who were only interested in promoting their public agendas.

He reiterated that resolve in his statement Tuesday.

“When people use a platform for public debate as a way to promote their agenda, regardless of the presentation of any factual information, I believe it is my responsibility to designate attempts to misinform the public as false,” Merrill said. “And, when users continue to publish those instances, or when they make hurtful statements about me or my family, I try to reduce the exposure to avoid misinforming members of the public.”

The lawsuit seeks to bar Merrill from blocking plaintiffs and others based upon whether he agrees or disagrees with their viewpoints, the ACLU’s complaint states. The case was filed in the Middle District of Alabama U.S. District Court on Tuesday.

Merrill said the lawsuit and its assertions don’t change the fact that he is accessible to the public.

“I am recognized as one of the most accessible and personally available elected officials in the history of the state of Alabama, which is why I visit all 67 counties each year,” Merrill said. “It is my desire to continue to be recognized in that way as long as I have the privilege to continue to serve in public office.”

ACLU of Alabama attorney Brock Boone said Merrill as a government official does not get to pick and choose who receives information on Twitter just like he can’t kick out his constituents for their beliefs at a town hall.

“This is a violation of the First Amendment,” Boone said. “It is worrisome that the individual in charge of free and fair elections chooses to discriminate against individuals on social media. As the Secretary of State, Merrill should be using his platform to inform the public, not censure them.”

 

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Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama plans a statewide campaign to pass constitutional amendment

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, a newly-formed political committee known as the Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama announced that they will coordinate campaign and media efforts for passage of the pro-life constitutional amendment that will appear on the Nov. 6, statewide ballot.

The committee is chaired by Cole Wagner of Montgomery. It is officially registered with the Secretary of State’s office and has already recruited several prominent partner organizations and elected officials, which include: Alabama Citizens’ Action Program (ALCAP), Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, Alabama Pro-Life Education Fund, Choose Life, Inc., Cameron’s Choice, Eagle Forum, Southeast Law Institute, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R – Monrovia, State Senator Steve Livingston, R – Scottsboro, and State Representative. Will Ainsworth, R – Guntersville, who is also the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.

“Passage of Amendment Two on the statewide ballot will allow Alabama to begin protecting unborn life as soon as Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Wagner said. “The Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama is tasked with educating voters about the constitutional amendment and providing them with accurate and truthful information while, at the same time, refuting falsehoods and misinformation that may be disseminated by pro-abortion forces within the state.”

Wagner said that the Alliance has created a public Facebook page and will soon begin its grassroots campaign and media efforts in support of the constitutional amendment. Additional organizations and public officials are also expected to announce their support for the group’s efforts in coming days.

Amendment 2 was sponsored by State Representative Matt Fridy, R – Montevallo.

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The Alabama Fair Ballot Commission released the following description:

“Amendment 2 provides that it would be the public policy of the state to recognize and support the importance of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life; and to protect the rights of unborn children. Additionally, the amendment would make clear that the state constitution does not include a right to abortion or require the funding of an abortion using public funds.”

The amendment will be on the Nov. 6 general election.

Abortion was illegal in Alabama until the U.S. Supreme Court issued the controversial 5 to 4 Roe vs. Wade ruling in 1972 stripping the state legislatures from the authority to regulate abortion within the states.

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Shelby announces $29.1 million grant for Huntsville airport

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) announced that the Huntsville-Madison County Airport Authority will receive a $29.115 million federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

The funding will be used for the construction of a new taxiway at the Huntsville International-Carl T Jones Field.

“The city of Huntsville is growing at a rapid pace,” said Senator Shelby. “This new taxiway will allow for increased accessibility and efficiency for air traffic commuting to and from North Alabama. Additionally, the funding will play a vital role in enhancing economic development throughout the region. As Huntsville continues to attract more business, it is essential that the city and surrounding area improve and modernize local infrastructure in order to meet the demands of its booming economy.”

“This $29.1 million grant will help Huntsville International Airport make significant infrastructure improvements to accommodate more direct flights into the area,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “With the recent addition of Silver Airways and Frontier Airlines, the Airport needs more capacity to manage increased traffic and future expansions that will support Huntsville’s bustling economy. Our deepest thanks to Senator Shelby for his leadership in this region’s tremendous growth and success.”

“We are grateful to Senator Richard Shelby for his continued contributions to our industry,” said Huntsville International Airport Executive Director Rick Tucker. “Without Senator Shelby’s work on the appropriations committee this would not be possible today. He has once again acknowledged a need and done what was necessary to address it, benefitting the Huntsville-Madison County Airport Authority. The funds secured will impact our facility as a whole and include improvements to the Jetplex Industrial Park, International Intermodal Center and the airport itself. This announcement insures our ability to continue economic development initiatives within our region and positively impacts our entire state.”

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Huntsville is by far the fastest-growing metro area in Alabama and under current projections is on track to become the state’s largest city in the next five years. In the past decade, more than 62 percent of jobs in the state have been created in Huntsville.

The AIP award provides the airport $29,115,000 million to construct 4,600 feet of new taxiway. The construction of the taxiway will provide access to current airport property that can accommodate building up to eleven 747-9 parking positions, as well as over 600,000 square feet of hangar space, which would more than double the airports current cargo capability.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is under the U.S. Department of Transportation. The FAA oversees the AIP grant distribution program.

The Fiscal Year 2018 (FY2018) Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which was passed and signed into law last March, provided FAA an additional $1 billion in discretionary grants for fiscal years 2018 through 2020, enabling the Secretary of Transportation to award funding for priority consideration projects such as the new taxiway at the Huntsville International Airport. This project met priority funding eligibility and was included in the first round of awards facilitated by the added discretionary funding.

Senator Richard Shelby is the Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Shelby is serving his sixth term in the U.S. Senate. Prior to his Senate service he spent four terms representing the Seventh Congressional District of Alabama and two terms representing Tuscaloosa in the Alabama Senate. Shelby is 84 years old.

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Rural TV Network wants Congress to pass legislation guaranteeing access to rural programming

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, Patrick Gottsch and RFD-TV unveiled an advocacy campaign to urge Congress to pass legislation, the Rural Communications Act of 2018, requiring that major multichannel video programming distributors to provide rural content to their subscribers.

The Rural Communications Act of 2018 requires that at least one percent of a distributor’s channels shall host content “dedicated to rural news and weather, information on commodity markets, rural healthcare, rural development, rural education, and other content relating to the needs and interests of farmers, ranchers, and the rural lifestyle.”

RFD-TV is the flagship network for the Rural Media Group, and is the nation’s first 24-hour television network featuring programming focused on the agribusiness, equine and the rural lifestyles, along with traditional country music and entertainment.

Patrick Gottsch is the President and Founder of RFD-TV. On Wednesday, Gottsch had a lengthy conversation with the Alabama Political Reporter about the Rural Communications Act of 2018.

President Gottsch told APR that all they are asking is that the major video delivery companies set aside just one percent of their channels for rural programming. On a 300 channel cable provider that would be just three or four channels.

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APR asked Gottsch if he had a Senator and Congress member to sponsor his bill yet.

Gottsch said that they are considering several and that reception for the bill has been supportive. Everyone I have talked to on Capitol Hill has expressed support for the legislation both from rural and urban districts.

Gottsch and his team argue that multichannel video programming distributors, including the cable companies, are not currently meeting the needs and interest of rural America. It is in the public interest for multichannel video programming distributors to meet the information needs and interests of rural America and there are special need for news, weather, and commodity market information, which is unique to rural America, is being ignored by urban news conglomerates. Recent mergers in the cable TV business have meant that cable TV has become even more over representative of urban America in its current programming.

“There are 70 million people in rural America,” Gottsch told APR, The problems of rural healthcare are different than healthcare in urban America. Rural America deserves to have their news reported. Rural education is different than urban education. Rural America has their own sports. Business channels broadcast from the stock market in New York. Our Market Watch programming broadcasts from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and is agricultural commodity focused.

“Urban cable conglomerates say they provide “rural tv,” but they don’t get it. Petticoat Junction, Beverly Hillbillies, and Dukes of Hazard are not the vital rural programming our viewers depend on,” Gottsch said in a statement. “Farmers and ranchers depend on rural news, weather, and commodities market information.”

The Rural Media Group owns both RFD-TV and the Cowboy Channel, which focuses its programming toward the cattle industry, horse enthusiasts, and rodeo sports.

APR asked would this legislation make you a monopoly or do you think it would encourage more competition in the rural communications sector?

“Absolutely it would lead to more competition,” Gottsch said. “I know of people who have tried to start a competitor rural network.” and they went around and talked to the video delivery companies and they wanted them to buy their way in and the economics just weren’t there.

Gottsch said that he believed that the legislation would lead to RFD-TV having a competitor network,

“Rural folks have to have the ability to communicate,” Gottsch added. Not just to each other but also for rural America to talk to urban America. Comcast currently has 55 Hispanic channels and 8 African American channels. We support that diversity and believe that rural America should also have their voice represented.

RFD-TV would like to be part of everyone’s base channels package and not just be relegated to an upper tier channel that people have to pay more money for.

I have been testifying before Congress and to the FCC about the loss of rural programming Gottsch said. Rural Americans have special needs for news and information that are not being met now. There is a big push for expanding rural broadband and we support that; but we should also have rural programming along with that rural broadband.

“We want to attach this to the farm bill,” Gottsch told APR.

The House of Representatives has passed one version of the Farm Bill that sets Agriculture and supplemental nutrition assistance benefits for the next five years. The Senate has passed a different version of the Farm Bill. The two differing versions of the Farm Bill are now in a conference committee. Only 20 percent of the Farm Bill deals with agriculture policy. Eighty percent of the funding in the Farm Bill actually goes for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Many Americans still refer to this program as “Food Stamps.” The House Republican version of the bill requires that able bodied adult SNAP beneficiaries either be enrolled in an approved job training program or work at least 20 hours per week, and that can be in a volunteer role for a government, non-profit cause, or Church. The bipartisan Senate version of the bill has no work requirements to receive SNAP benefits.

APR asked Gottsch, we recently heard from Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) that if the conference committee approves a version of the Farm Bill with work requirements for SNAP that the Senate will not support it. We have talked with Congressman Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) and he told us that the House won’t pass a Farm Bill without the work requirements. Are you concerned about the Farm Bill not passing even with your legislation attached.

“I have heard the same thing.” Gottsch said. Gottsch however was optimistic that adding the Rural Communications Act to the bill would help find consensus and help the Farm Bill pass.

Gottsch said that the Rural Communications Act is not unprecedented. In 1893 the Congress passed legislation giving rural Americans free postal delivery (RFD) and in the 1930s urban America had electricity and rural Americans did not. The Rural Electrification Act of 1937 brought electricity to rural areas.

Patrick Gottsch has taken to the air waves, asking his viewers to call their Congress members and Senators to ask them to support the Rural Communications Act of 2018.

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Ivey applauds Supreme Court opinion allowing states, localities to collect sales taxes from online retailers

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 3 min
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