Pricing gouging protections sought in Wisconsin

| 5/2/2006

With fuel prices in Wisconsin pushing $3 per gallon, the state Assembly approved a bill April 28 that is intended to protect consumers from being gouged at the fuel pump.

Wisconsin does not have an anti-gouging rule. However, there are laws to prevent multiple mark-ups in a 24-hour period.

Sponsored by Reps. Josh Zepnick, D-Milwaukee, and Samantha Kerkman, R-Randall, the bill would prohibit wholesalers and retailers from charging excessive prices for diesel and gasoline.

“We passed this bill the same day Exxon Mobil reported profits of $8.7 billion in just this first quarter of 2006 alone,” Zepnick said in a written statement. “It doesn’t take long for my neighbors in Milwaukee to hold up $8.7 billion against the $3 per gallon they are paying … and to realize that something does not add up.”

The bill targets prices that grossly exceed the amount charged on motor fuels within a three week time period. It would give the Wisconsin attorney general authority to determine what is excessive pricing.

Anyone found in violation would face fines between $100 and $10,000, per occurrence.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports nearly 30 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.

The Wisconsin bill – AB786 – has been forwarded to the state’s Senate where another fuel-gouging bill is pending.

That bill would prohibit selling consumers goods and services, such as food, medicine, and fuel at unreasonably high prices during emergencies declared by the governor.

Sponsored by Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, the bill – SB358 – would allow the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to draft formulas to determine when prices become unreasonable, The Associated Press reported. Violators would face lawsuits seeking up to $10,000 in forfeitures and an injunction.

Lawmakers must reach agreement on one version of anti-gouging legislation by the end of the week when the legislative session is scheduled to end.