The South Carolina House has approved a bill that would make it easier
to investigate allegations of fuel price gouging in the state. It has been sent
to the Senate.
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
is under a state of emergency.
“We learned after Hurricane Katrina that we have a weakness in our
law,” Harrell, R-Charleston, recently told The
In the days following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, state 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 demand.
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
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 Senate Judiciary Committee.