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Talk About It: Price-Gouging Bill Clears Judiciary Committee

New regulation would outlaw "unconscionably excessive prices" in severe weather emergencies.

Will new price gouging regulations help prevent excessive gas and oil prices in tough times?

In response to Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm that left Connecticut residents lining up for gas and other necessities, the senate Judiciary Committee voted this morning in support of a bill to strengthen the state’s price-gouging laws during a severe weather emergency.

The bill, which would make “unconscionably excessive pricing” a criminal and civil violation during such an emergency, focuses on price-gouging for consumer goods, such lodging, snow removal, flood abatement and post-storm cleanup or repair services. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

“I’ve heard from constituents about some of the high prices quoted for tree removal or roof snow removal following a storm, so obviously there’s a need to step in and protect homeowners from price-gouging,” Sen Gerratana said. “This is a consumer-friendly bill with broad, bipartisan support.” 

Senate Bill 60, “AN ACT PROHIBITING PRICE GOUGING DURING SEVERE WEATHER EVENTS,” bars excessive price increases for goods and services in circumstances the governor proclaims to be a severe weather event.

The bill expands current state law which already prohibits price gouging for (1) products under a civil preparedness emergency declaration, (2) products and services under a supply emergency declaration, and (3) energy resources during abnormal market disruptions.

It proposes that during a severe weather event such as a snowstorms, ice storms, hurricanes, etc. that no person can sell or offer to sell any goods or services for an “unconscionably excessive price.” Under the bill, whether a price is unconscionably excessive is based on several factors, which a defendant may rebut with evidence that additional costs out of his or her control were imposed on the defendant for the goods or services.

Violators would be subject restitution in cases involving less than $ 5,000, but individuals may also sue, and courts may issue restraining orders; award actual and punitive damages, costs, and reasonable attorneys fees; and impose civil penalties of up to $ 5,000 for a willful violation and $ 25,000 for violation of a restraining order.

According to CT News Junkie, a similar bill was passed in the Senate in 2011 but was never raised in the House.

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