Anti-gouging bill tabled in Montana

| Friday, April 13, 2007

A failed effort in the Montana House was designed to protect consumers in the state from being gouged at the fuel pump.

Sponsored by Sen. David Wanzenried, D-Missoula, the Senate-approved bill was tabled in the House Judiciary Committee, effectively killing it for the year. The issue can be brought back for consideration during the next regular session in 2009.

The bill – SB67 – was intended to prevent price gouging in the state during state or federal emergencies following wildfires and other disasters. The protections would have applied to retail sales of goods and services, including fuel.

The version that passed the Senate didn’t include protections for occurrences outside the state. It would have made it illegal for retailers to increase prices more than 20 percent above their costs after emergency declarations.

Individuals found in violation would have faced up to $1,000 fines, per occurrence. A maximum penalty of $25,000 would have been applied for violations that last the duration of the event.

Supporters said 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, said the bill could drive them out of business by restricting their ability to respond to market conditions.

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