2011 Legislative Updates
Legislature 2011: Final Legislative Update
WSLA Records Another Successful Legislative Session
It was an eventful 2011 Legislative Session for Wyoming liquor retailers. One of the most important pieces of legislation to help Wyoming businesses passed, and all harmful moves to our industry failed.
Most important was the passage of House Bill 147 (Excise Tax – Vendor Compensation)… sponsored by Representative Dave Zwonitzer and Senator Ray Peterson… that allows retailers to be compensated for the costs of the preparation and submission of sales tax at 1.95% for monthly sales tax due under $6,250 and 1% for returns over $6,250. The monthly cap for compensation is $1,000 a month, which means that our retailers will be compensated up to $12,000 a year. This bill will take effect January 1, 2012. Updates on how it will work will be upcoming in newsletters as well as from the Department of Revenue.
Wyoming businesses incur additional costs with the preparation and submission of sales tax. The sales tax collected by Wyoming businesses is unusual in the sense that the Wyoming Department of Revenue doesn’t calculate the tax or deal with the risk of any miscalculation at the retail level. Furthermore, 28 states already give their retailers a Vendor’s Compensation. One of the unsuccessful attempts in the last 20 years was by now U.S. Senator Mike Enzi when he served in the Wyoming Legislature.
This problem is made even worse with the increased use of credit cards. The fee from credit card companies can run up to 5%; Wyoming retailers are being forced to cover the sales tax on this amount as well. All retailers, large and small, should be reimbursed for the significant costs they incur in collecting and remitting state and local sales tax.
The Wyoming State Liquor Association worked long and hard on this bill, as many of you noticed by the Legislative Alerts we sent out as well as calls and e-mails. This bill was also supported by many of our fellow business associations including the Wyoming Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, Wyoming Retail Association, Wyoming Taxpayers Association, Rocky Mountain Food Industry Association, Wyoming Chambers of Commerce Partnership, and the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association.
A bill that the WSLA opposed died in its first Committee hearing. Senate File 12 (County authority – smoking bans) would have authorized counties to prohibit smoking in public places and gave local public health departments the authority to adopt regulations prohibiting smoking in public places.
House Bill 3 (Liquor license transfers) clarifies existing Wyoming law on sales tax hold for liquor licensees. HB 3 further defined the restrictions on liquor licensees failing to pay state sales tax in their ability to transfer liquor licenses. This bill doesn’t do anything that wasn’t already being implemented by a law passed in the 1996 Legislative Session, it just makes it clear that a liquor license can’t be transferred until the sales tax due is paid. WSLA supported this bill, and it was signed by the Governor into law effective immediately.
The WSLA reached a compromise with other groups with House Bill 98 (Bar and grill liquor licenses), which allows for a slight increase in the number of bar and grill liquor licenses available to municipalities and counties. HB 98 allocates a new bar and grill license to be issued to larger municipalities per 7,500 person increase in population and gives other municipalities below 27,500 in population one additional license. WSLA didn’t oppose this bill as long as no further increases are made, which there weren’t. HB 98 was signed by the Governor and will go into effect July 1, 2011.
The failure of a Wyoming lottery, however, came as a disappointment to many. House Bill 186 (sponsored by Representatives Dave Zwonitzer, Del McOmie, Mary Throne and Dan Zwonitzer) would have given Wyomingites the powerball and lottery as well as annual profits to the state of $10 to $12 million. The bill would have created a semi-autonomous Wyoming Lottery Corporation. The WSLA supported this bill, which was narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives on Committee of the Whole.
House Bill 131 (Tips sharing), although only affecting a small number of our retailers, would have allowed tips sharing (or tip pooling) by hospitality businesses that allows them to “share” a portion of their tips with other employees who help them provide service to guests such as bartenders, bussers, food runners, etc. Current Wyoming law allows tipped employees to set up and participate in a voluntary tips sharing arrangement now as long as all employees agree to it, but the employer has no involvement in the process. WSLA supported this bill, along with other hospitality groups, but the bill didn’t make it.
Several bills… House Bill 180 (Liquor licenses-cultural event permit) and House Bill 234 (Alcohol permits-catering permits)… attempted to allow cultural events and civic centers to have a new type of liquor license, or allow additional catering permits for those venues. The WSLA worked with the interested parties to find a compromise, which we never reached, and so these two bills didn’t make the House Floor.