TRENTON – The Senate Transportation Committee today approved legislation to fine multiple offender gas gougers up to $3,000 every time they raise the selling price of gasoline more than once in a 24-hour period.
“If the gas gougers laughed off the law last time around, these fines should at least give them straight faces and maybe even straighten out their operations,” said Senator Nicholas J. Sacco, Chairman of the committee and a prime sponsor of the bill, S-2769/S-2800/S-2810.
The panel released a composite of several gas gouging deterrent bills which would raise the current fines of $50 for a first offense and up to $200 for each subsequent offense to up $1,500 for a first offense and up to $3,000 thereafter for violating the State law limiting gas price increases at the pump to one per day.
“Consumers literally were blown away by the behavior of some sellers of gasoline after Hurricane Katrina,” said Senator Shirley K. Turner, D-Mercer, another prime sponsor. “Clearly, there were cases of greed which merited sanctions because consumers were victimized terribly.”
Senator Turner said she was particularly concerned about drivers who were seniors and others on fixed incomes who were hardest hit by the sharp, multiple increases of gasoline prices which far exceeded $3 per gallon in many places.
Senator Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, another sponsor, said gasoline retailers weren’t the only ones to take advantage of consumers in the post-Hurricane Katrina chaos when many parts of the nation’s services delivery system were disrupted by the devastation in the South.
“But when sellers of gasoline can make hundreds of thousands of dollars in sudden profits by raising prices by the hour, the threat of a $50 fine is pretty much a joke,” he said.
The committee bill released without objection by the panel also would provide for the suspension of a gasoline retailer’s license for up to 30 days for a first offense of gas gouging and possible revocation for multiple offenses.