That’s a Wrap: A Legislative Review

That’s a Wrap: A Legislative Review

The 114th Congress (2015-2016) made its final push to pass legislation and wrapped up its work on Saturday. During each Congress, some 10,000 bills are introduced in the House and Senate, but only a select few (typically less than 5%) make it all the way through the process and are signed into law. Over the last two years, TECHPol has been following a number of federal legislative initiatives being considered in the House and Senate that affect small business and technology policy. As the 114th Congress comes to an end, we thought we should close the loop and report on the few destined to become law. 

The Consumer Review Fairness Act — Online reviews are an important tool for consumers as they make decisions about where to shop and what to buy. The more honest reviews that are available, the more value to consumers, to quality businesses, and to the marketplace. Some companies have sought to deter unflattering reviews by subjecting customers to non-disparagement clauses hidden in the fine print of consumer contracts. When these customers post a negative review online, the company goes after them. A new law will prevent this tactic and preserve the value of honest online feedback as a tool for both consumers who want to be informed shoppers and small businesses that work hard to earn good reputations.  (See post: Unreliable Online Reviews — Who is the Watchdog?).

The Better On-Line Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act — Ever tried to buy tickets to an event the day they go on sale only to be told they are sold out? Sure, you can find tickets elsewhere, but at triple the price. The BOTS Act cracks down on a tactic used by ticket scalpers who are employing BOT technology to rapidly purchase large quantities of tickets minutes after they go on sale and then resell them at prices way above face value. Under the new law, the Federal Trade Commission will have the enforcement authority to go after these scalpers. (See post:  Three Bills to Address Technology Abuses).

Internet Taxes — You may take it for granted, but there’s a law that says you can’t be taxed to access the internet. Since 1998, a moratorium on internet taxes has been in place, but it’s been subject to periodic renewal by a vote of Congress. In February 2016, a permanent ban was signed into law to prevent “state and local: (1) taxation of Internet access, and (2) multiple or discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce.” Some had hoped that internet sales taxes would also be addressed as part of this debate, but that was not to be. (See post:  ICYMI: This Summer’s Top 5 Small Business Policy Debates).

Trade Promotion Authority — Access to global markets is important to American companies, including small businesses. About 98% of U.S. companies that export goods have less than 500 employees. Trade agreements that break down barriers to U.S. exports are important to economic growth. Obviously, these agreements are complex. If Congress is able to tinker with the details after the deals are cut, negotiations would be even more complicated. TPA is lauded as a tool that makes it easier for the administration to negotiate by simplifying the process for congressional approval (or rejection) of trade agreements. In June 2015, a renewal of TPA was signed into law.

In addition to these legislative achievements, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) and a number of reforms to benefit small federal contractors were signed into law during the 114th Congress, as previously reported by TECHPol.  

Many of the bills that will die with the end of the 114th Congress may be revived in some form in the next Congress, but it’s back to square one. The environment for legislation will be different in the 115th Congress since both the executive and legislative branches will be controlled by the same political party. The agenda is sure to be ambitious. We expect to hear much more about regulatory reform, tax reform and cybersecurity, among other issues related to technology and small business, so stay tuned to TECHPol in 2017.