Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has signed a bill into law that is
intended to protect consumers in Wisconsin from being gouged at the fuel pump.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports nearly
30 states have some type of price gouging ban in place, with many others
pursuing their own rules. The laws in many of those states are triggered by
Previously, the only anti-gouging rule in Wisconsin
prohibited multiple mark-ups in a 24-hour period and charging people in line
for fuel a new price posted while they’re waiting.
The new law prohibits selling consumers goods and services,
such as food, medicine and fuel, at unreasonably high prices during an
emergency declared by the governor.
The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection
will draft formulas to determine when prices become unreasonable, The
Associated Press reported. Violators will first be issued warnings, and
then could face lawsuits seeking up to $10,000 in forfeitures and an
“The aftermath of a disaster should not be an excuse for big
oil companies to gouge Wisconsin citizens,” Doyle said in a written statement.
“We need to send a clear message to the big oil companies that they can’t
simply raise prices 40 or 50 cents overnight for no reason.”
The new law, previously SB358, already is in effect.
A similar effort has been approved in Vermont with
legislation in Louisiana nearing passage. However, another effort in Colorado has been vetoed.
Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas signed legislation May 29 to
prevent sudden jumps in fuel prices. The new protection takes effect July 1.
The new law allows the governor to declare a “market
emergency” during such circumstances like severe weather, electrical supply
shortages and acts of war or terrorism. The declaration makes it illegal to
sell petroleum, including diesel and home heating oil, at “an unconscionably
Violators would face fines up to $10,000 per occurrence.
A bill in the Louisiana House 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 attempt to gouge customers could be fined as much as $500
and/or spend as much as six months in jail.
Existing Louisiana law imposes civil fines on merchants who
overcharge for goods and services, including fuel, during or in the wake of a
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
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.
In Colorado, Gov. Bill Owens vetoed a bill that would have
made it illegal for retailers to increase prices more than 10 percent above
their costs after emergency declarations by the governor. Violators would have
faced up to a $10,000 fine per day.
The state attorney general would have been able to file suit
in district court to prevent gouging.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor