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Public Policy

Four policies impacting small retailers right now

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Wrapping up National Small Business Week, it’s appropriate to recognize that there are decisions being made by policymakers every day in Washington that have an impact on small retail businesses and the contributions they make to the American economy.  These issues have a very real impact on Main Street retailers that support our communities and play an important role in bolstering local jobs and economies. Here are four policies small retailers should be keeping their eyes on.

1. Sales tax fairness – After working on it for over a decade, Congress is the closest they've come to passing legislation that would empower states to require online retailers to collect sales tax. The Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness Act in May and now it's the House's turn. This week, the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures called for passage and helped demonstrate software that would automate the collection process. While tax-free online sellers hold a price advantage over all retailers large and small, Main Street stores are hit hardest. The Senate has done its part but it's still important to remind your House representative why this legislation is fair and critical to have a level playing field between online and brick-and-mortar retailers.

2. Swipe fees – A broad cross section of retailers from across the nation have opted out of a flawed settlement of an antitrust lawsuit over Visa and MasterCard’s credit card swipe fees. The proposed settlement does nothing to bring the soaring fees under control, but would take away retailers’ right to any future legal challenges to the fees and related card company rules and restrictions. NRF led retailers in asking a federal judge to reject the proposed settlement, and merchants are now waiting for a September hearing on approval. The issue is important to small retailers because their low credit card volumes mean they pay higher fees than large retailers. The debate is ongoing, and retailers can sign up for updates.

3. Patent trolls – The name might conjure up funny images but patent trolls are a very serious problem for the increasingly high-tech retail industry. Trolls buy old, obscure patents and then threaten to sue companies using the technology unless they pay a licensing fee. The cost of going to court is so high many victims are forced to pay up. Both large and small retailers are targeted, but small merchants are easy prey because the trolls know they lack the financial resources and legal expertise to fight back. Whether the cases are settled or go to court, they divert much-needed capital that should be invested in retailers’ business and job creation instead. Fortunately, half a dozen members of Congress have proposed legislation to address the issue, the White House has announced a crackdown, and the Federal Trade Commission this week announced plans for an investigation. NRF is working with lawmakers to find a solution that will protect retailers from being subject to these baseless lawsuits.

4. Affordable Care Act implementation – Retailers everywhere will have to make important decisions this summer and fall to prepare to meet requirements of the Affordable Care Act that take effect in 2014. The law requires companies with 50 or more full-time employees to provide them with health insurance at government-mandated levels of coverage or face huge fines. But with complex equations for determining what constitutes “full time” and arbitrary guidelines for what is affordable, even small retailers need to pay attention. The House has taken up repeal several times, and legislation is pending that would address specific problems, but until they are passed the ACA remains the law of the land. NRF has free resources for retailers to help them navigate compliance, and will address compliance in a webinar on July 10.

Amid all these issues, it’s good to know retail has advocates in Congress. This week, NRF recognized 136 members of Congress as “Heroes of Main Street” for their support of the retail industry’s public policy priorities.  Recipients of these awards have supported policies and initiatives that recognize the important contributions of the retail industry, and have worked to encourage a vibrant, sustained and healthy retail sector. This year’s recipients were recognized for their support and sponsorship of the Marketplace Fairness Act. The awards are a chance to say “thank you” to the men and women who are making decisions that will ensure local retail keeps growing.

Retailers can stay informed on new developments by getting involved with NRF and state retail associations and using these channels to let elected officials know what these issues can mean on Main Street.