On March 2, an Internet-affiliate nexus bill was introduced in the Arkansas State Senate (SB 738). Arkansas joins Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont, as the thirteenth state this legislative season to consider such a measure. Nearly all of the bills -- with the exception of Illinois’s HB 3659, which was passed by the Illinois legislature and is now awaiting signature or veto by Governor Quinn, and Connecticut’s SB 5545 -- are patterned directly upon the New York affiliate nexus law enacted in 2008 and challenged in court, so far unsuccessfully, by Amazon.com. In other words, 11 of the 13 proposed laws create a rebuttable presumption that an out-of-state Internet retailer is obligated to collect and remit the state’s sales and use taxes if the retailer enters into an agreement with an in-state resident (an “affiliate”) pursuant to which the affiliate places a link from the affiliate’s website to the retailer’s site, and the retailer realizes at least $10,000 in sales to customers referred to it by the affiliate’s links. The presumption can be negated by proof that the in-state affiliates did not engage in any in-state solicitation on behalf of the retailer.
In its November 2010 ruling, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court found that the ability of a retailer to rebut the presumption of solicitation was an important factor in determining that the New York law is not unconstitutional on its face. The Court, however, remanded the case for further proceedings on the issue of whether the law violates the Commerce Clause and Due Process Clause as applied to specifically to Amazon. As the ongoing proceedings in the New York case make clear, the constitutionality of such “New York-style” affiliate-nexus legislation is far from resolved.
At the same time, it is worth noting that the Illinois and Connecticut bills differ from the New York law in that neither bill provides that the presumption that a retailer must collect sales and use tax as a result of having in-state Internet affiliates may be rebutted. Imposing an irrebuttable presumption of nexus is highly suspect under both the Commerce Clause and Due Process Clause. Without a rebuttable presumption in place to protect retailers, Illinois and Connecticut would subject Internet retailers to burdensome state tax collection obligations when the retailers are effectively doing nothing more than advertising. For that reason, the progress of each of these bills bears watching. Stay tuned.