Senate bill seeks anti-gouging measure in Montana

| 1/25/2007

A Montana Senate panel has approved a bill that is designed to protect consumers in the state from being gouged at the fuel pump.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports nearly 30 states have some type of price gouging ban. The laws in many of those states are triggered by emergency declarations.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-5 Tuesday, Jan. 23, to advance a bill to the Senate floor that is intended to prevent price gouging in the state during state or federal emergencies following wildfires and other disasters. The protections would apply to retails sales of goods and services, including fuel.

The current version doesn't include protections for occurrences outside the state.

Sponsored by Sen. David Wanzenried, D-Missoula, the bill - SB67 - would make it illegal for retailers to increase prices more than 20 percent above their costs after emergency declarations.

Individuals found in violation would face up to a $1,000 fine, per occurrence. A maximum penalty of $25,000 would be applied for violations that last the duration of the event.

Supporters say the bill would boost consumer confidence and give the state the ability to investigate claims of hoarding or price gouging, The Associated Press reported. Convenience store owners and other retailers, however, say the bill could drive them out of business by restricting their ability to respond to market conditions.