House passes bill to prohibit price-gouging in weather emergencies

Hartford — The House on Saturday passed by a 125-12 vote a bill that would prohibit “excessive” price increases for goods and services that are sold during a weather emergency.

The Senate has already passed the bill, and it now moves to the governor for his signature.

“The whole point is to tell people they could be held liable,” said state Rep. David Baram, D-Bloomfield, a proponent of the bill. “It tells people, don’t take advantage of people because there are penalties to be had.”

Under current law, price gouging is barred for “products under a civil preparedness emergency declaration, products and services under a supply emergency declaration and energy resources during abnormal market disruptions.”

Under the bill, no seller may sell goods and services vital for consumer health, safety or welfare and used primarily for personal, family or household purposes at an “unconscionably excessive price” during a weather emergency declared by the governor, according to the bill. Goods and services would include lodging, snow removal, post-storm cleanup services and flood abatement.

Price gouging would be determined in part by measuring whether there was a large disparity between the price of the goods and services during the weather emergency and the average price over 30 days before the emergency started, or on evidence that the price for the service highly exceeds the price in the trade area.

Someone who violates the bill would be committing an unfair trade or deceptive practice under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. The act allows the state’s Department of Consumer Protection commissioner to enforce the act by, among other things, investigating complaints, issuing cease-and desist-orders and ordering restitution in cases involving less than $5,000.

The Republicans raised numerous questions about the bill and whether it would be applied fairly.

State Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury, said he wanted a clearer formula. If these instances of price gouging are determined on a case-by-case basis, one business’ practices might be considered acceptable while another’s might be considered excessive, he said.

In response, Baram said a consumer would make a complaint to the DCP or sue in court. Then the DCP commissioner or a judge would determine whether price gouging had occurred.

j.somers@theday.com

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