Price-gouging protections advance in New Jersey

| Monday, December 12, 2005

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the resulting high costs for fuel seen at the pump, a New Jersey Senate panel approved legislation this month that would toughen penalties for fuel price gouging in the state.

The Senate Transportation Committee advanced a legislative package that would fine fuel station operators $1,500 for raising the price of fuel more than once in a 24-hour period. Repeat offenders would face a $3,000 fine.

Station operators also could have their fuel license suspended for up to 30 days for a first offense and possible revocation for subsequent offenses.

Existing New Jersey law allows the state to fine gougers $50 to $200 per occurrence. The law also prohibits the price of fuel from being increased more than once in a 24-hour period.

“If the gas gougers laughed off the law last time around, these fines should at least give them straight faces and maybe even straighten out their operations,” Sen. Nicholas Sacco, D-North Bergen, a prime sponsor of the bill, said in a written statement.

The panel also approved a bill – S2808 – that would increase the penalties for stealing fuel.

Anyone found to have stolen fuel would face fines and possible prison time. The most serious offense would be five years in prison for the theft of 10,000 gallons or more.

“The supply of fuel and prices seem to be stabilizing, but this is a good law to have in place for the next time we experience an energy crisis,” Sen. Joe Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, told The Star-Ledger.

The measures now head to the full Senate for further consideration. If approved, they would move to the Assembly.

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