Michigan bills seek expanded price gouging protections

| 7/1/2008

Two bills introduced in the Michigan House seek to further help protect consumers in the state from being gouged at the fuel pump.

At the encouragement of Gov. Jennifer Granholm, two House lawmakers have introduced legislation that would expand the state attorney general’s authority to investigate excessive fuel prices. Court-ordered subpoenas based on probable cause no longer would be needed before proceeding with actions against suspected violators. The first bill – HB6250 – also would define what is considered to be grossly excessive pricing for goods and services.

The second bill – HB6249 – would broaden the ability of the attorney general and local prosecutors to investigate anti-competitive conduct by fuel retailers.

Reps. Robert Dean, D-Grand Rapids, and Mary Valentine, D-Norton Shores, are the sponsors of the bills in the House Judiciary Committee.

“We are working to protect the pocketbooks of consumers who are feeling pain at the pump,” Granholm said in a written statement. While most fuel stations don’t pose problems, the governor said “this legislation would give the attorney general the authority to make sure that consumers are treated fairly.”

Critics say the legislation doesn’t limit the attorney general’s expanded powers to fuel pricing. All Michigan businesses would be vulnerable to allegations that they had violated provisions of the state’s consumer protection act, they say.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports nearly 30 states have some type of price gouging ban with still others pursuing their own rules. The laws in many of those states are triggered by emergency declarations.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Michigan in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor