Michigan bill advances; targets fuel stations that shortchange drivers

| Friday, April 28, 2006

Concerns about whether drivers in Michigan are getting what they pay for at the fuel pump has spurred the state Legislature to approve a bill that would impose hefty fines on fuel stations that overcharge customers.

The Senate unanimously approved the bill April 20. The House did the same Tuesday, April 25, clearing the way for the bill to move to Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s desk for her signature.

The bill – HB4502 – was introduced last year before the rash of hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast. However, fuel prices that approached $3 per gallon in the state following the storms caused many drivers to question whether they were getting what they paid for.

Supporters said the bill was intended to target station owners who purposely cheat the public with inaccurate pumps.

“I wanted to make sure this legislation strongly targeted those stations that are intentionally defrauding the public,” Rep. Richard Ball, R-Bennington Township, said in a written statement. “We understand that occasionally pumps malfunction or a mistake is made, but those stations that are adjusting their pumps at the expense of the customers should be severely punished.”

Rep. Fran Amos, R-Waterford, said the bill would offer customers an added layer of protection.

“Since there is no way for a customer to actually see how much (fuel) they are getting or test the grade themselves, it is important they can trust the station to give them what they are paying for,” Amos said in a written statement. “As with any public trust, those that purposely abuse it should be strongly penalized.”

Existing Michigan law limits the fines for first-offense quantity violations to between $50 and $1,000.

In addition to other penalties, the new measure would make station owners who intentionally short customers pay a civil fine of $5,000 for a first offense. A second offense would cost stations $10,000, and a third offense would carry a $25,000.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture would be given authority to shut down a station’s pumps until the problem is corrected. The department would be required to annually inspect stations with three or more intentional violations.

Consumers in Michigan who believe they’ve been bilked at the pump should call the state’s Department of Agriculture hot line at 1-800-MDA-FUEL (1-800-632-3835).

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