Wednesday, November 21, 2001

N.Ky. lawmakers file gouging bill




By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two Northern Kentucky state lawmakers have introduced legislation designed to crack down on gas gouging and other incidents of profiteering during times of emergency or disasters.

        House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, and Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills, say they filed the bill because of allegations of gas gouging immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings.

        But the bill, which the Kentucky General Assembly will begin considering in January, deals with price increases in any commodity that can't be directly tied to regular market conditions.

        “This bill is in no way meant to interfere with the free enterprise market,” Mr. Draud said. “But we certainly need to make it clear to all that price gouging in the wake of disaster or crisis, such as the horrible attack on our nation, is an unconscionable act against our citizens (that) will not be tolerated.”

        In the wake of the attacks, motorists, fearing a disruption in the nation's oil supply, lined up at gas stations. Though there was no disruption of the nation's oil supply, some stations raised prices to as much as $4 a gallon in Kenton County, the lawmakers said.

        Kentucky Attorney General Ben Chandler investigated allegations of attack-related price gouging. But while some stations agreed to make voluntary refunds, none was charged with crimes or fined.

        That's because Kentucky doesn't have a specific price-gouging law, making it difficult to prevail in court.

        “Even if a station or stations are gouging, a consumer can usually find a lower price by going to another station,” said Jennifer Dean, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.

        In some cases, Kentucky has used consumer protection laws and civil fines in cases involving price gouging.

        Mr. Callahan said the bill he and Mr. Draud have filed specifically targets price gouging when the governor, a mayor or county judge-executive declares a state of disaster or local emergency.

        Ms. Dean said the Attorney General's Office could not comment specifically on the bill because staff had not reviewed it.

       



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