Anti-gouging bill awaits Colorado governor's signature

| 6/5/2006

A bill designed to protect consumers in Colorado from being gouged at the fuel pump is awaiting Gov. Bill Owens’ signature.

The governor has until Wednesday, June 7, to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature. It is intended to prevent price gouging in the state before, during or after natural disasters. The protections would apply to retails sales of goods and services, including fuel.

Dan Hopkins, a spokesman for Owens, told The Denver Post that the governor hasn’t made a decision on the bill.

The bill – HB1251 – would make it illegal for retailers to increase prices more than 10 percent above their costs after emergency declarations by the governor. Violators would face up to a $10,000 fine per day.

The Colorado attorney general would be able to file suit in district court to prevent gouging.

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.

A similar effort has been approved by the Louisiana Senate.

Existing Louisiana law imposes civil fines on merchants who overcharge for goods and services, including fuel, during or in the wake of a declared emergency.

A bill offered by Sen. Francis Heitmeier, D-New Orleans, would criminalize price gouging and make it punishable by up to two years in jail and/or up to a $2,000 fine. Those who simply attempt to gouge customers could be fined as much as $500 and/or spend as much as six months in jail.

Merchants would be permitted to increase prices if the mark up is consistent with similar goods and services outside the state. They would also be allowed to cover the cost of getting items in preparation for or after a disaster.

Merchants would not be able to charge a price that “grossly exceeds the prices ordinarily charged for comparable goods and services” during or before the disaster.

The rule would take effect during an emergency declared by the governor or a local official. It also would take effect when a named tropical storm or hurricane enters the Gulf of Mexico.

Heitmeier’s bill – SB502 – is in the House Criminal Justice Committee.