Senate OKs bill prohibiting price gouging during emergencies

Products would include building materials, emergency supplies, gasoline and health care services.

Associated Press

OLYMPIA — The Washington Senate has approved a measure that would prohibit price gouging for certain goods and services during a state of emergency, like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill passed on a 29-20 vote and now heads to the House for consideration.

Under the bill, the attorney general’s office would have investigative and enforcement authority. Attorney General Bob Ferguson requested the legislation.

Excessive price increases would be prohibited during a governor-declared state of emergency on things like building materials, emergency supplies, gasoline, health care services and personal protective equipment, with penalties of no more than $25,000 per violation.

The measure prohibits price increases of more than 15 percent, in addition to the costs businesses incur during an emergency.

If the measure is passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee, Washington would join 36 states and the District of Columbia with such laws.

Under current law in Washington, the attorney general’s office uses the Consumer Protection Act’s general prohibition against unfair and deceptive business practices to combat price gouging, but in a release issued after the Senate passage, the office said that courts have not defined what level of price increase constitutes as “unfair and deceptive.”

Ferguson’s office said that they have responded to more than 1,300 complaints of price gouging since March 2020. The office sent nine warning and 14 cease-and-desist letters to price gouging businesses.

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