Federal Disaster, State of Emergency

S.C. price gouging bill gains key approval

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Legislation that would broaden South Carolina's laws prohibiting price gouging received key approval Thursday in the state's House, according to an Associated Press report.

The bill, which is expected to clear the House next Tuesday, allows the attorney general to use the state's price gouging laws when the president issues a disaster declaration somewhere in the United States. Current sate law says criminal charges cannot be brought unless the governor declares a state of emergency in South Carolina.

That limitation [image-nocss] hindered Attorney General Henry McMaster's efforts last fall to prosecute gasoline price gouging claims made when some gas stations allegedly raised prices in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he said.

Last October, as reported in CSP Daily News, McMaster's office opened civil investigations into a handful of stations that may have illegally raised prices after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast nearly two months earlier. His office received more than 1,000 complaints about increasing gasoline prices, but it focused its investigation on seven stations. The AG's office subpoenaed records to see if there were any violations of the state's Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Investigators went to more than 100 stations in 20 counties. McMaster sought lists of price changes at the stations before and after Katrina hit on August 29, invoices from distributors and other documents from seven stations owned by four parent companies.

The penalty for violating the state's Unfair Trade Practices Act is a $5,000 fine for each occurrence.