An effort to make it easier to investigate allegations of fuel price
gouging is under review in South Carolina.
Sponsored by House Speaker Bobby Harrell, the bill would allow
authorities to look into possible gouging if an emergency is declared in
another state affecting the price of goods in South Carolina. Currently,
officials may not investigate such allegations as a criminal matter unless
South Carolina itself is declared in a state of emergency.
“We learned after Hurricane Katrina that we have a weakness in our
law,” Harrell, R-Charleston, told The State newspaper.
In the days following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, South Carolina
Attorney General Henry McMaster received more than 1,550 complaints of price
gouging, which state law defines as using an emergency to charge “unconscionable” prices far above anything that can be justified by supply and
A handful of civil investigations were opened. If a state of emergency
had been declared in South Carolina, those fuel retailers might have faced
criminal investigations, McMaster said.
The measure would not change current misdemeanor criminal penalties of
up to a $1,000 fine and/or 30 days in jail, per occurrence.
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.
Harrell’s bill – H4316 – is in the House Labor, Commerce and Industry