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General assembly

Vote on fate of deputy in DC delayed in Senate

– Philosophical concerns delayed a vote Wednesday on a bill sought by the Indiana attorney general that would give his office a higher profile on federal matters.

The Senate Judiciary Committee wanted to further consider Senate Bill 36 after several Republican members of the panel appeared ready to vote against the measure.

A separate House committee also heard testimony Wednesday on forcing Amazon and some other Internet retailers to remit sales taxes on purchases to the state. No vote was taken on that legislation.

The first bill would allow Attorney General Greg Zoeller to assign a deputy to work in the Washington, D.C., area and represent the state on various federal matters that might impact Indiana.

Zoeller called the move a “healthy reinforcement of federalism” and said his staff would serve in a defensive capacity.

But he gave examples such as working on highway priorities, the Asian carp controversy and challenging regulations that might be an overreach.

Zoeller has already hired this person even though the bill has not passed. His new deputy is working in D.C. under an initial contract worth $55,000 through May. The salary would likely rise to be more than $100,000 on an annual basis. There would be additional costs for office space.

Several committee members were bothered by allowing the attorney general to proactively enter into policy debates, and said it borders on usurping the power of the governor.

“You would effectively be lobbying on political issues,” said Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport.

Others pointed out the governor already has an office in D.C. and the state has congressional and Senate staff looking out for Indiana.

“I’m not sure we need this kind of presence in Washington, D.C.,” said Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange. “It’s an unnecessary expense and is far-reaching.”

Several legislators said they liked Zoeller personally but he won’t always be the attorney general and the language was overly broad.

Retail sales tax

In the House Ways and Means Committee, the panel heard House Bill 1007, which would accelerate when Amazon would begin collecting and remitting sales taxes to Indiana for purchases.

The legislation says if a company has a physical nexus – such as stores or distribution facilities – they have to collect Indiana sales tax on purchases.

Amazon has four warehouses in Indiana, and former Gov. Mitch Daniels initially promised not to require them to collect sales taxes. Then he cut an agreement to start doing so in 2014.

In the meantime, Amazon has begun collecting sales tax in other states but not here.

Brick-and-mortar retailers have long complained that it builds in a 7 percent disadvantage on cost because people can buy online and not pay sales tax.

“(Amazon) has gotten a good deal for several years,” said Bill Waltz of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. “Circumstances have changed.”

The bill would not affect online retailers that have no physical presence in Indiana. That issue would have to be handled on the federal level.

If passed, the bill would be effective July 1.

nkelly@jg.net

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