Florida immigration statute to protect jobs never enforced, new legislation pondered

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Even though a Florida law was passed 10 years ago to punish employers who hired illegal workers, state law enforcement officials admit that they’ve never enforced the law. The law prohibits anyone from knowingly hiring a worker “who is not duly authorized to work by immigration laws or the Attorney General of the United States.”

Michael Rampage, general counsel for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said, “From what I can find, from our statistics, the statute has never been enforced.” He said that there is a possibility that some employers have been charged – but no records exist to support such charges.

Rampage said that “There’s probably little time and little resources for law enforcement to proactively go and scope out employers and see if they are in violation of the law.”

The revelation, reported in Tuesday’s Miami Herald, was disclosed in a fact-finding session during a special Senate committee meeting to address changes to the existing law and potentially enact new legislation. The committee was form to examine all the issues needed to be considered before proposing new legislation that would deal with immigration issues.

While campaigning, newly-elected Gov. Rick Scott said that he would bring an Arizona-type immigration bill to Florida, although most members of the legislature now said theirs will be different, concerned about angering the Hispanic population, the state’s fastest growing electoral group.

Business interests differed widely in their stance on illegal immigration, but all seemed to agree that Arizona-type legislation was not appropriate for Florida, and would be preempted by federal law.

Jack Oliver, the legislative director for Floridians for Immigration Reform, said that the issue is all about jobs and the economy. “When someone comes here illegally, they’re stealing the American job from someone who wants to come here legally.”

Another group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, says that illegal immigration costs Florida taxpayers $5.2 million annually due to its impact on schools, social services and the law enforcement system.

A spokesperson for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Maria del Rosario Rodriguez, said “We suspect and we fear that this is motivated by political fear and racism. It’s not about jobs. It’s not about security. It’s not about the economy.”

The Florida Chamber of Commerce released a report this week saying that current immigration, both legal and illegal is within historic norms.

It said that illegal immigrants do not inflict a proportionally higher burden on law enforcement, and that they produce more economic value than they consume. A spokesperson for the Chamber said that while pursuing reform, “Florida must use caution with any immigration restrictions to help ensure that we don’t provoke an economic boycott or restrict economic growth.”

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California lawmaker pushes for “Amazon tax”on Internet retailers

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Hoping to cash in on the billions of dollars of online transactions made by its residents, a California state assemblywoman, Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) proposed legislation on Wednesday that would impose a  sales tax of up to 10.75 percent, on customers of companies such as Amazon.com.

Skinner said that the new tax could bring more than $250 million to the state.

Even though a U.S. Supreme Court ruling bans the collection of sales sax on purchases made outside a state, legislators have been busy looking for ways to get around the law, or overturn it.

California is only one of several states that are considering legislation to tax sales from out-of-state retailers, which is currently illegal based on a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Quill v. North Dakota.

Other states have passed similar legislation, only to see the matter end up in a costly legal fight. A number of recent court decisions have ruled that companies which do not have stores, warehouses or offices, are not required to collect the tax from customers.

Skinner is supported by a coalition of local and national merchants, all of whom have a physical presence in the state, such as Amazon rival Barnes & Noble. They say that despite the law, the current system is unfair. “This legislation will close the current loophole in tax law which has allowed out-of-state companies to avoid collecting California sales and use tax,” Skinner said.

California and other states argue that companies like Amazon.com or Overstock.com, have arrangements with marketers known as “affiliates”, individuals or companies that provide sales leads for the retailers. When the affiliates are located in-state, they say that’s the same as though the retailer is located there.

Amazon has roughly 25,000 affiliates located in California, according to Rebecca Madison, a spokesperson for the group. She says if the state attempts to use the affiliate relationship as the basis for charging the taxes, Amazon will terminate its agreements and stop paying the group.

“Out-of-state retailers will simply stop advertising on the California websites to avoid having to collect California sales tax,” she said. “So, at the end of the day, California website advertising income is cut off, and the state doesn’t collect sales tax revenue.”

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation in the past, saying that it would cost the loss of thousands of affiliates jobs in the state.

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California says no to illegal ferrets, (even though seemingly OK with illegal humans)

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Despite being the only state in the continental U.S. where it’s illegal to own a ferret, California legislators continue to outlaw the creature, which has gained popularity in the U.S. since the 1980’s. Some estimates put its population in the country at over 800,000, with at least 200,000 illegally residing in the state.

Ferrets are sad in California, the only place in the continental U.S. where they are illegal, and live in a constant state of fear.

California’s ban on domesticated ferrets dates back to 1933. Even though enthusiasts have been lobbying to overturn the law for decades, the state’s Fish and Game Commission maintains its position that the small-slender relative of the European polecat, is dangerous to poultry and other small animals. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger even vetoed ferret amnesty legislation when he was in office.

Officials have cited safety and environmental concerns if the pets escape into the wild.

Opponents say the state’s position is unreasonable, claiming there is no documented evidence of feral ferret colonies anywhere in the U.S. despite their widespread popularity outside California.  They also say that hundreds of years of domestication have blunted their predatory instincts and their ability to survive in the wild.

Now, citing the state of the economy, ferret enthusiasts are trying a new strategy, suggesting a change in the law could bring more revenues to the state, according to a story in the Sacramento Bee.

They say that current owners in California who are secretly harboring the pets must purchase all their supplies, and the animals themselves, from neighboring states such as Nevada. If legal, all the additional economic activity generated by the pets, and sales tax collected by the state, could help make a tiny dent in the state’s massive budget deficit.

Debby Greatbanks, a member of the West Coast Ferrets Association confirms that it’s far more pricey than a hamster saying “It’s a good $500 investment.”

Michael Maddox, vice president for government relations at the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Concil agrees. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that there would be a positive economic impact for California, for California businesses and for revenue for California.”

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Jobs threatened in Illinois, legislation passes taxing Internet retailers

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Politicians in the Illinois House passed legislation last week and sent it for signature to Gov. Pat Quinn, that would require out-of-state companies, such as Amzon.com or Overstock.com, to charge its Illinois customers a 6.25 percent sales tax. If signed into law, the tax would add further pain to residents after the 67 percent income tax increase recently enacted by legislators.

Even though a U.S. Supreme Court ruling bans the collection of sales sax on purchases made outside a state, legislators have been busy looking for ways to get around the law, or overturn it.

Illinois lawmakers say that it’s a good way to raise more money for the state, and that it’s only fair, since in-state retailers are required to collect the tax. They add that it would simply level the playing field among local retailers and those elsewhere. The tax could add up to another $70 million annually to state coffers.

The bill that passed in the House 88-29, would require retailers to collect the tax from customers, and turn it over to the state. Under the current law, customers must voluntarily remit sales tax on Internet  purchases to the state. Very few residents do so.

States around the nation have been long interested in the idea, hoping to somehow tax Internet transactions, that to date, have been off limits thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The 1992 court decision, Quill v. North Dakota, ruled that states are prohibited from collecting sales tax made by retailers, who have no physical presence in the state where the sale was made. Although the ruling dealt with a catalog retailer at the time, the law has been widely considered to include Internet sales.

In its decision, the court left the door open for Congress to change the policy, if it later enacted legislation requiring the collection of the tax on a national basis. So far it has not.

Illinois intends to get around federal law by requiring collection of the sales tax if a retailer has so-called in-state “affiliates”, local individuals or companies that advertise products on behalf of a retailer. Affiliates are commonplace throughout the country and on the Internet, and provide sales leads to retailers via links on their web sites.

The bill’s opponents say that if enacted, Amazon.com and others will simply terminate its affiliate contract with those in the state, costing individuals and small businesses millions of dollars in annual affiliate revenues. Critics also argue the bill raises the cost of products to Illinois residents by the amount of the sales tax, which is still prohibited by federal law.

A letter sent by Amazon.com to its affiliate marketers said, “The unfortunate consequences of this legislation on Illinois residents like you were explained to the legislature, including Senate and House leadership, as well as to the governor’s staff. Over a dozen other states have considered essentially identical legislation but have rejected these proposals largely because of the adverse impact on their states’ residents. We thank you for being part of the Amazon Associates Program, and wish you continued success in the future.”

Other states which passed similar laws, including Colorado, New York, Rhode Island and North Carolina, have not seen large increases in sales tax collected, since out-of-state merchants reacted by terminating affiliate contracts. The net affect has been the lost of thousands of jobs, and taxable income reported to the state by the affiliates.

Gov. Quinn has said in the past that he supports the concept, but has not given any information whether he is likely to sign it into law.

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Lame-duck lawmaker who provided crucial vote on Illinois tax bill given state job by Governor

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Within days of leaving office, having supplied the swing vote to pass Gov. Pat Quinn’s controversial income tax bill, former state Rep. Careen Gordon was appointed to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

The 67 percent income tax increase, sponsored by Quinn and pushed through the Democrat-controlled legislature, passed the House with 60 votes, the bare minimum needed. The bill was passed at 1:00 a.m. the morning that Gordon’s replacement was sworn in.

Commenting to the Chicago Tribune, Quinn’s spokesperson Annie Thompson said, “It doesn’t have anything to do with what she did at the end of her term in the General Assembly.”

She added that the appointment was a coincidence and she was selected because she is a lawyer and has previous experience as an assistant county prosecutor and state assistant attorney general.

Gordon claims that she approached the governor about the position, after losing the Nov. election to Republican Sue Rezin.  She said they talked about the tax bill, but she did not feel pressured to vote for it.

She also spoke with him again about the bill in December, at a meeting with other Democrats at the governor’s mansion.

Gordon said she didn’t think about whether her crucial vote might affect her chances of getting the $86,000 part-time appointment. “I don’t think that way,” she said. “I never allowed anyone to hold anything over my head like this.”

Chicago Tribune

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Proposed Oregon law would ban children passengers on bikes

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A politician in Oregon has enraged the biking community in Portland, with the introduction of a law in the state’s legislature that would make it illegal to ride with a child on a bike or in a bike trailer.

A former director of health at Oregon Health & Science University, Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland), introduced legislation claiming an OHSU study showed that 20 percent of bike commuters had experienced an injury each year, and 5 percent had one serious enough to warrant medical attention.

Although he admitted that there were no studies or data on accidents involving young children on bikes, he said, “It really got me thinking about what happens if there’s a 4-year-old on the back of that bike when a biker goes down.”

Jonathon Maus, editor of the bikeportland.org blog said, “The bill itself is just ridiculous.” He said it was misguided and added, “I think it is a terrible miscalculation to start a debate with something so one-sided that prohibits the use of a transportation option by a large segment of the population.”

Maus and his wife have two daughters, one 8 and the other 5, and have been putting them in a bike trailer since they were 3 months. He said that he’s never had a problem, and said that drivers are more careful around him when they see the presence of children.

After receiving hundreds of emails protesting the bill, Greenlick urged the biking community to calm down. He said, “This is how the process starts. We have hearings. People start testifying. You start getting the information to find out whether there is a problem or not.”

The Oregonian

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Lawmaker pushes to limit excessive payouts to departing employees

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A Missouri lawmaker, Rep. Sally Faith, introduced legislation this week in the legislature that would prevent cities from making massive payouts to employees when they quit or are fired.

The bill would limit the severance monies paid to such employees to six months of salary, according to a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The bill was introduced by Faith just weeks before she faces St. Charles Mayor Patti York in a mayoral primary, and highlights a recent deal York made with the city’s departing finance director, Karen McDermott.

McDermott, an 18 year employee of St. Charles, left her job in October for reasons never made public. As the city’s finance director, McDermott earned a salary of $116, 019. The severance package she negotiated when she left, $235,823, was more than twice her annual salary. The city also agreed to pay her health insurance premiums through the end of 2011, if McDermott wasn’t able to secure her own insurance.

At the time of McDermott’s departure, York said that she quit voluntarily, and there was no dispute between her and the city. Even so, the city agreed to pay a law firm $19,732 to handle the negotiations on McDermott’s exit.

York said that she didn’t have a problem with the legislation proposed by Faith, but asked why the state would force the limitation on city employees, when there is no such limitation on state employees.

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