Yesterday Bill?

Florida rep wants to repeal below-cost gas sales law

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Florida State Representative Irving Slosberg (D) said that during the next legislative session, he plans to introduce the Motor Fuel Relief Act of 2005, a bill that would repeal the state law that prohibits the sale of gas below cost. The law applies to refiners, wholesalers, multistate marketers, chain retailers and dealers.

This whole gas thing is choking us and we are not going to take it anymore, Slosberg told the Palm Beach Post. He said that he hopes to bring up the issue earlier should there be a special legislative session, [image-nocss] and if the governor allows him to put it on the agenda. The next session begins in six months.

We needed this bill yesterday. My bill is geared to alleviate the economic hardship Floridians face when all they want to do is fill up at the gas station so they can support their livelihoods and daily activities, he added.

A similar attempt to repeal the law, the Motor Fuel Marketing Practices Act, failed in 2001 when the State Senate Agriculture & Consumer Services Committee voted it down, the report said. The bill's sponsor then was Ginny Brown-Waite, now a congressperson representing West Florida. But times have changed. With today's prices it's a whole different ballgame. There might be enough public pressure out there that individual members of the legislature will find the backbone to vote for it, Brown-Waite told the newspaper.

The Florida Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association (FPMA) successfully led the charge against repeal, said the report. Those who represent independent and mom-and-pop stations argue that if large corporations are allowed to sell gasoline below cost, it will put their members out of business. That law was passed because the legislature understood that competition keeps prices down, FPMA president and CEO Jim Smith.

Association members would be hurt by larger competitors, including big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Costco, which can purchase everything from toilet paper to gasoline in bulk and sell it at rock-bottom prices.

Though independent gas station owners can't sell at a lower price and still make a profit, Guy Spearman, a Tallahassee lobbyist who represents Wal-Mart, said there are state and federal antitrust provisions that would prevent his client from doing so. He told the paper: We believe in everyday lower prices, so why should we try to make the public pay more than what the public ought to be paying?

Wal-Mart owns and operates gas stations at its Sam's Club and also leases space to independent retailers who set their own prices based on the marketplace. All we are asking for is fair competition and with that many times it brings lower prices to the consumer, Nate Hurst, a Wal-Mart spokesperson, told the paper.

One organization that might not weigh in on the battle is the Florida Petroleum Council. Its position has been that while it would not favor creation of a law that prohibits the sale of gasoline below cost, it has been in place in Florida a long time, and our members have learned to live within its parameters, David Mica, the council's director, told the Post. In the past, the council has remained neutral on the topic. Our folks will find a way to operate in the legal climate that exists, whether it's with or without the law, he said.

Enforcement of existing law has not been difficult, according to Florida Attorney General Charlie Christ, because prices simply have not gone down in recent years. Anyway we can stimulate competition with gas prices, I am all for it, Christ, a Republican candidate for governor, told the paper.