New Jersey efforts would boost price-gouging fine

| Friday, December 02, 2005

A New Jersey Senate panel is expected to soon discuss a handful of bills that would increase the fine for fuel price gouging in the state as much as 100 times more than it is now.

The Senate Transportation Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Monday, Dec. 5, to address price gougers.

One bill, sponsored by Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Ewing, would increase the penalty for price gouging and authorize the state to use revenue earned from fines to assist low-income senior and disabled citizens pay heating bills.

Turner’s bill – S2810 – calls for fines on fuel stations to be boosted to $2,000 for first time offenders. Subsequent offenses would result in a $5,000 fine.

A bill authored by Sen. Andrew Ciesla, R-Brick, would fine violators $1,000 for a first offense. A second offense would result in a $2,500 fine and subsequent offenses would be a $5,000 fine.

Existing New Jersey law allows the state to fine gougers $50 to $200 per occurrence.

The current law also prohibits the price of fuel from being increased more than once in a 24-hour period.

“Something has to be done to create a deterrent for the unscrupulous few who would rather pay a small fine and break the law so they can get rich quick,” Turner said in a recent written statement.

A similar effort – S2769 – offered by Democratic Sens. Joseph Coniglio of Paramus and Nicholas Sacco of North Bergen would increase the fine on fuel stations to $1,500 for a first offense and up to $3,000 for each subsequent offense.

In addition, Sens. Sacco and Joseph Vitale, D-Woodbridge, sponsored a bill – S2768 – that would fine fuel wholesalers up to $5,000 for a first offense. Subsequent offenses could result in a $10,000 fine.

New Jersey is far from being alone in its pursuit of stations that fleece truckers and other drivers at the fuel pump.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports 27 states have some type of price gouging ban with many others pursuing their own rules. The laws in many of those states are triggered by emergency declarations.

On the national level, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens said he would draft a federal price-gouging bill next year.

Stevens, R-AK, said his bill would give the federal government the power to prosecute and convict anyone who takes advantage of an emergency to spike prices.

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