South Carolina governor vetoes price-gouging protections

| 6/9/2006

Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed a bill Tuesday, June 6, that would have made it easier to investigate allegations of fuel price gouging in South Carolina.

Sponsored by House Speaker Bobby Harrell, the bill – H4316 – would have allowed the state attorney general to trigger the state’s anti-price gouging law if an emergency was declared in another state affecting South Carolina markets. Currently, officials may not investigate such allegations as a criminal matter unless South Carolina is under a state of emergency.

Sanford said in his veto message that the governor “in his role as the state’s chief executive officer, should determine whether an abnormal disruption of pricing for goods and services has occurred to trigger the anti-price gouging law.”

Harrell, R-Charleston, said he was surprised by the Republican governor’s action.

“This is an important piece of legislation to protect South Carolina residents after a disaster and I am shocked that he vetoed it,” Harrell told The Greenville News.

Harrell said the measure likely has enough support in the House to override the veto. The Senate also would have to override the veto for it to become law.

The bill – H4316 – was filed following hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the fuel shortages that caused prices at the pump to jump. State Attorney General Henry McMaster said his office received more than 1,550 complaints of price gouging in the following weeks.

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.

South Carolina isn’t the only state this year to look into adopting anti-gouging protections. A similar effort in Colorado was vetoed early this month while the governors in Vermont and Wisconsin approved protections. Another one is nearing passage in Louisiana.

Sanford also vetoed a bill – S766 – that would have made it illegal for certain unlicensed motor carriers to advertise. Affected carriers would have included household goods movers and hazardous waste haulers.

One of the reasons the governor cited for vetoing the bill was that an individual might do research to gauge consumer interest in a service before becoming licensed.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor