Price-gouging protections die in New Jersey

| Monday, January 16, 2006

New Jersey wrapped up its two-year legislative session Jan. 9 without approving legislation that would toughen penalties for fuel price gouging in the state.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the resulting high costs for fuel seen at the pump, 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.

The package called for suspending station operators’ fuel licenses for up to 30 days for a first offense and possible revocation for subsequent offenses.

The legislation, however, never came up for consideration before the full Senate, killing the bill.

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.

A separate fuel-related bill – S2808 – met the same fate. It would have increased the penalties for stealing fuel.

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

Bills that didn’t pass both chambers when the session ended can be reintroduced in the new Legislature that started Jan. 10. The fuel theft bill already has been reintroduced by Sen. Joe Kyrillos, R-Monmouth.

Kyrillos’ bill – S595 – is in the Senate Transportation Committee.

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