Price gouging protection bill sent to Pennsylvania governor

| 10/31/2006

The Pennsylvania House approved a bill that would permit the state's Attorney General to investigate complaints of price gouging during disasters and impose penalties.

House lawmakers voted by unanimous consent Oct. 23 to approve Senate changes to the bill. The bill - HB2001 - now heads to Gov. Ed Rendell's desk.

If the governor signs the bill into law, sellers will be prohibited from raising prices of such products as diesel and gasoline more than 20 percent above the average price one week before an emergency is declared. The restriction would expire 30 days after a disaster declaration is lifted.

Anyone involved in the distribution or sale of consumer goods or services found in violation of the protection would face fines up to $10,000, per occurrence.

"The vast majority of business operators are generous and helpful when disaster strikes, but those few who seek to exploit such hardship will now find themselves having to answer for it," Sen. Mary Jo White, R-Franklin, said in a written statement.

The rule would take effect after a natural disaster, labor strike, act of terrorism or other event, White said. It would not apply to price increases caused by additional expenses, such as replacement costs, taxes and transportation.

Pennsylvania isn't the only state this year to look into adopting anti-gouging protections. The governors in Vermont and Wisconsin approved protections while their counterparts in Colorado and South Carolina vetoed similar efforts. Another measure failed to gain approval in California.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor