Sen. Thom Tillis has introduced federal legislation that would punish people and businesses who engage in price gouging during the coronavirus crisis.
North Carolina already has a price-gouging law and it went into effect when Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency March 10 as part of the state’s coronavirus response.
“I want to hear about price gouging. I’m very serious about going after bad actors in the midst of a crisis,” Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, told constituents on a telephone town hall Monday night.
Under Tillis’ legislation, when the president declares a national state of emergency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be able to create a list of items needed for the crisis.
People or businesses who are charging prices that “grossly exceed” the average price for the item in the previous month or the price being charged by others in the area could be prosecuted.
The Federal Trade Commission and U.S. attorney general would be responsible for enforcing the measures, with special attention to those charging the most.
Tills’ legislation — the End Price-Gouging During Emergencies Act — would allow those federal agencies to prioritize prosecution for price gouging during a time of emergency.
It would allow states to refer cases to the federal government. Offenders could face big fines, as much as 10 times the amount gained by the violation up to $100 million.
During the coronavirus outbreak, items such as medical masks, hand sanitizer and other medical supplies could be included.
COULD APPLY TO HURRICANES, DISASTERS
The legislation could also apply to natural disasters when the president declares an emergency under the Stafford Act, which is often used for that purpose. For example, President Donald Trump used the act in 2019 to address flooding disasters in the Midwest.
Trump made an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act on March 13 for the coronavirus.
“Enough is enough. Low-life price gougers who try to rip-off their fellow Americans and our medical professionals need to be criminally prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Tillis said in a statement. “My bill will make them think twice before they try to price gouge Americans during an emergency, and if they still try to price gouge, my bill will hold them accountable.”
Tillis’ bill is not included in the current coronavirus package being negotiated on Capitol Hill. But Congress is expected to take up more large coronavirus-related measures in the coming weeks.
North Carolina’s price gouging law has gone into effect several times over the last few years, including in August due to Hurricane Dorian, in January 2019 due to a winter storm and in September 2018 due to Hurricane Florence.
In March 2019, the North Carolina Department of Justice announced a $274,000 settlement with a Georgia-based tree removal company for price gouging after Hurricane Florence. The settlement included full restitution to 23 homeowners and canceled charges for two others.
N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein brought eight lawsuits against 22 defendants under the state’s price gouging statute after Hurricanes Michael and Florence in 2018. The state won more than $725,000 in the lawsuits.
You can report potential price gouging to the state at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or by filing a complaint at ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/price-gouging
Read the article here.