Virginia laws intended to aid road work, prevent price gouging

| 7/21/2006

New laws in Virginia are intended to put road and bridge work in the state on the fast track and protect consumers from being taken advantage of during emergencies.

One new law, previously HB671, allows counties and cities in the state to award contracts for the construction of transportation projects using the so-called “design-build” concept.

Used in some capacity in about 40 states, the design-build contracting process allows contractors to submit plans to design and construct each project. Typically, one firm designs a highway and another builds it, with the two tasks bid separately.

Supporters said the process is a way to speed construction and save money, while improving accountability. Opponents said the practice falls far short of the goals promised by its backers. They also say it creates a huge windfall for just a handful of big construction companies.

With those concerns in mind, Delegate Leo Wardrup, R-Virginia Beach, said the state will need to keep a close eye on design-build contracts.

“But this is worth the risk in order to get some of these larger projects moving,” Wardrup told The Virginian-Pilot.

Another new law, previously HB666, eliminates the number and dollar limitations on awarding of design-build contracts by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

One other legislative effort that is now law is intended to help protect consumers in the state from paying excessive prices for necessary goods and services, including fuel.

The new rule – previously SB77 – authorizes additional emergency powers for the governor to investigate, prosecute and deter price gouging during natural disasters and other emergencies. It also extends the time frame beyond the typical 30 days that the price-gouging protection is in effect.

A separate law, previously HB1094, gives the governor authority to order a supplier to cease and desist in charging “unconscionable prices” where there is a risk of causing a public panic.

Gov. Tim Kaine said there are no indications that vendors are charging artificially higher prices. But, the new laws show the state is serious about protecting consumers from any predatory pricing.

“The state will vigorously investigate, and the attorney general’s office will vigorously prosecute, those retailers believed to be price gouging during a time of emergency,” Kaine said in a written statement.

All of the new laws took effect July 1.