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Opinion: Big government aims to kill cottage industry in Missouri to help retailers

It seems like images and headlines of smash and grab theft are plastering the news with dramatic security footage and unsettling accounts from shop owners. It is certainly a problem here in Missouri, but the solution being considered by our General Assembly could inadvertently harm small online sellers and would not solve in-store crime.

While Missouri HB 2108  does have some positive elements, like establishing a legal definition of Organized Retail Crime and instituting specific criminal penalties, it also has onerous provisions that would jeopardize honest entrepreneurs’ privacy.

As written, HB 2108 harms small sellers in the name of combatting the sale of stolen goods being sold online, and it does not remedy this brick-and-mortar problem at its source. Small businesses selling products online would be treated like “high-volume sellers” if they make more than 200 sales or $5,000 in gross revenue a year. Sellers who meet this low threshold would be required to publicly disclose private, personal information like their home addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers directly on product listings in an attempt to ensure they aren’t counterfeit.

This is profoundly disturbing. If this piece of legislation passes, I would be forced to choose between running my business and my safety. Anyone from disgruntled customers to identity thieves could have intimate access to my personal life. Missouri residents have recently been subject to a string of home invasions, I just don’t feel comfortable handing strangers online my information on a silver platter.

Think of the more than 500,000 small businesses we shop with and depend on daily here in Missouri. Small business owners selling on online marketplaces are college students, moms, grandparents, and friends. They’re our neighbors; not the nefarious criminals that HB 2108 assumes them to be from the moment they sign in online.

Online sellers shouldn’t be the collateral damage of this bill. Trying to solve retail crime cannot come at the expense of harming millions of honest small sellers and holding up their fair access to the $768 billion economy that thrives online. While I can agree that organized retail crime is a real issue, it’s pretty clear that big-box stores like Walmart and Home Depot are just trying to leverage a narrative in an attempt to limit online options and competition as in-store retail sales continue to decline

The bottom line is that retail theft needs to be addressed with tangible, brick-and-mortar solutions. As it’s written right now, HB 2108 pre-judges and punishes honest businesses like mine from the get-go. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? I hope Missouri’s representatives see this bill for what it is: an effort by brick-and-mortar big retail companies to crimp competition and target honest online entrepreneurs like me.