New Jersey lawmakers seek price-gouging protections

| Monday, October 16, 2006

As the end of the regular session approaches in New Jersey, several bills of interest to truck drivers still could draw consideration. Among them are efforts to toughen penalties for fuel price gouging in the state.

A bill offered by Sen. Nicholas Sacco, D-North Bergen, would fine fuel station operators $1,500 for increasing the price of fuel more than once in a 24-hour period. Repeat offenders would face a $3,000 fine.

Station operators also could have their fuel license suspended for up to 30 days for a first offense and face possible revocation for subsequent offenses.

Existing New Jersey law allows the state to fine gougers $50 to $200 per occurrence. The law also prohibits the price of fuel from being increased more than once in any 24-hour period.

Sacco said drivers in the state have been witness to how volatile fuel prices have become during the past few years. He pointed out that in any given week, pump prices can increase several cents a gallon every day.

"In this climate, it can be tempting for retailers to break the law and change prices more than once in 24 hours in order to make a quick profit," Sacco said in a written statement. "The new higher fines in this bill will make it less worthwhile for retailers to violate the law."

The increased fines also would apply to stations that fail to publicly display the price of fuel or sell fuel at a different price than what is posted. Failure to display the price of fuel at each pump also would be prohibited.

In addition, stations would be forbidden from providing rebates, allowances, concessions or benefits either directly or indirectly to allow a person to obtain motor fuel below the posted price.

The Senate unanimously approved the bill - S383 - earlier this year. It has been sent to the Assembly Transportation and Public Works Committee.

Sacco's bill is one of a handful of price-gouging protections in the state awaiting consideration in committee.

A similar bill offered by Assemblywoman Linda Stender, D-Scotch Plains, also would boost fines for increasing the price of fuel more than once in a 24-hour period. The bill - A2136 - would levy fines between $500 and $1,000 for each violation.

In addition, Sacco and Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Woodbridge, have sponsored a bill - S382 - that would fine fuel wholesalers up to $5,000 for a first offense. Subsequent offenses could result in a $10,000 fine.

The New Jersey Legislature is scheduled to adjourn in January 2007. Any bill that doesn't gain approval prior to the end of the session can be brought back for consideration next year.

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