State Employee Grant Program

2011 State Legislative Issue Briefs

ADVERTISING

         Alcoholic Beverage Advertising.  Attempts to regulate beer and wine advertising are continuing issues and could cause a severe loss of advertising revenue to Washington broadcasters. They could take the form of an outright ban of hard liquor, or beer and wine advertising on television, radio or both; including in advertisements the same warning “labels” that are required on alcoholic beverage containers; or, restrictions on the substantive content of advertisements. Some of the restrictions might cause brewers to eliminate broadcast spot advertising in Washington state altogether, while compliance by stations with other requirements would be nearly impossible (blocking network spots, for example). WSAB will continue to lead the opposition to any attempts to restrict or remove alcoholic beverage advertising, as an unconstitutional abridgement of commercial free speech.

             Legal Notice Advertising.  Broadcasters serve the public interest by informing voters. The Secretary of State is required to publicize statewide ballot measures in print media and broadcast prior to every General Election. However, in 2009, as a budget-cutting measure, the Secretary of State requested legislation to eliminate this requirement. Given the State’s budget crisis, it is possible that similar legislation will be introduced in 2011. WSAB will oppose any such attempt to reduce information flowing to voters.

            Political Broadcasting.  State political advertising restrictions or requirements do not make political advertising “better.” They often conflict with requirements that either candidates or broadcasters must meet under the political broadcasting sections of the federal Communications Act, and only add to the already unacceptable level of confusion among candidates about what elements their spots must include. In addition, they typically run afoul of the First Amendment protection given political speech. WSAB opposes these kinds of bills.

     Public Funding of Supreme Court Campaigns.  Legislation from previous sessions would have permitted a court to issue an injunction to a radio or TV station ordering the station to stop broadcasting advertising by a candidate who had violated the provisions of the bill. While this provision conflicts with the Federal Communications Commission’s “no censorship” rule, the more effective method of resolving this issue is to have the court issue the injunction against the candidate or candidate’s committee. WSAB opposes this provision.

      Promotional Contests of Chance. Promotional contests of chance offer broadcasters an ideal way to present added value to an advertiser’s commercial announcements.  Federal law permits broadcasters to advertise such activities, so long as they are authorized by State law. Washington law outlines the types of promotional contests of chance that are allowed. WSAB opposes any attempt to reduce the number or kind of activities permitted by State law.

      State Lottery Advertising. The State Lottery spends a significant amount of money advertising on radio and television. WSAB has supported the retention of the ability of the State Lottery to advertise. In the past, some legislators who oppose the Lottery have attempted to reduce its effectiveness by reducing or eliminating Lottery advertising in order to provide a pretext for eliminating the Lottery altogether. While WSAB does not take a position on whether there ought to be a State Lottery, the Association has opposed the strangulation of the Lottery by eliminating broadcast advertising.

      General Advertising Content Restrictions. It is not appropriate to make broadcasters liable for advertising violations by their advertisers or to make broadcasters the “advertising police.”   Very often, legislation intended to regulate a particular type of business will include a section defining what may and may not be said in advertising by such a business. WSAB has never opposed restrictions that prohibit “false and misleading” advertising. However, WSAB does oppose content specific restrictions which go beyond prohibiting “false and misleading” statements. WSAB opposes any attempt to make broadcasters liable in the event that an advertiser’s announcement violates a substantive restriction.

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NEWS GATHERING & REPORTING

        Closure of Government Agency Meetings & Limitations on Access to Government Agency Records.   Open public meetings and access to public records are the only way the public and its surrogate “government watchdog,” the press, have to make government accountable to the citizens. In every legislative session there are more than a few bills introduced to restrict the public’s access to meetings of government agencies or to records kept by government agencies. News reporters stand in the same shoes as the public. Meetings of governing bodies of public agencies and the records created and held by government agencies are presumed to be open and available to the public. Special interest groups continually try to exempt particular records from public scrutiny for their own private purposes; government agency governing bodies often seek to add to the existing list of reasons to close their meetings to the public. WSAB reviews each proposed exemption to the Open Records Act and opposes those proposed exemptions that would prevent broadcast journalists from holding the government accountable for its actions.

      State Agency to Arbitrate Open Records Disputes Between Record Requesters and Government Agencies.   It is likely that legislation will be introduced in 2011 that would establish a separate government agency to provide an alternative method of resolving disputes, which would allow requesters to avoid the cost and time of suing the agency from which the records were requested. Broadcast journalists often request records from state and local agencies. When those requests are denied or the agency drags its feet, the only remedy currently is to sue in Superior Court. This legislation would permit a record requester to choose to have the dispute handled by an administrative proceeding. The ability to go to court would still be available. WSAB supports this legislation because it would reduce a station’s cost of challenging an agency’s decision not to release public records.

        Student Media Censorship.   In past legislative sessions, legislation has been introduced that would restrict public schools’ ability to review student media, including student broadcast stations, prior to broadcast or distribution.In 2007, WSAB successfully had this bill amended to exclude student-run broadcast facilities. As FCC licensees, the school or district must be able to compel the students running the station to comply with FCC rules and regulations that relate to the content of broadcasts. WSAB will oppose such legislation if the exemption for student-run broadcast stations is not included in any such legislation.

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TAXES

       Broadcasters B & O Taxation.   Broadcasters pay their fair share of B & O tax. The U. S. Supreme Court in Fisher’s Blend Station v. Washington Tax Commission (1936) required a station’s revenue to be apportioned for taxation purposes so that only revenue which is generated within the State of Washington is subject to tax. Current law allows broadcasters to deduct a standard amount (62%) of gross revenue, representing national, regional and network advertising sales, or a station may itemize these deductions, in order to protect their interstate income from taxation. In addition, a station with out of state audience may also deduct the percentage of out of state audience from gross revenue in determining B & O tax. The effect of eliminating these deductions would be to nearly triple a broadcaster’s B & O tax burden. WSAB opposes any attempt to remove or reduce broadcasters’ B & O tax deductions.

      Sales Tax on Advertising.  Prior experience, particularly in Florida, shows that a sales tax on advertising is completely counterproductive.  It is impossible to administer to ensure that the transaction is only taxed once. Advertising increases demand for products and increases retail sales, therefore, increasing the collection of the sales tax; decreasing advertising by taxing its sale will decrease sales tax collections. Local businesses will end up shouldering the entire burden of the retail sales tax because the U. S. Constitution prohibits taxing out of state transactions. Elected officials are always searching for new sources of revenue and legislators have from time to time proposed adding the sales tax to services generally, or advertising in particular. WSAB opposes a sales tax on the sale of advertising time, or generally on services.

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