The House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee approved legislation last week that would amend the state’s Price Gouging Act to protect consumers and provide greater certainty to businesses. House Bill 1577 would impose reasonable limits on pricing restrictions in order to protect businesses from enforcement action for raising prices during emergencies, among other reforms.
As currently written, the Price Gouging Act – Act 133 of 2006 – leaves businesses, manufacturers and retailers potentially vulnerable to enforcement action from the state Attorney General for price increases on consumer goods that may occur during disaster emergencies and for 30 days after a disaster declaration is terminated. This regulation has led to excessively long pricing restrictions that are in effect long after the emergency situation is over. Additionally, 2018 marked the first time that a disaster declaration was issued for a non-natural disaster. The declaration to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic, which was signed into law in January 2018 and has since been renewed multiple times, has triggered the Price Gouging Act – subjecting manufacturers, distributors and retailers statewide to pricing restrictions on all consumer goods and services. This legislation will update the Act to simplify pricing restriction requirements and will also require a separate declaration to trigger pricing restrictions.
The PA Chamber has spearheaded a coalition representing a broad range of interests in advocating for this legislation. In a memo sent prior to the committee’s vote on the legislation, the coalition noted the far-reaching impacts disaster declarations have on the private sector.
“And while voters approved amendments to the Constitution to provide the General Assembly the option to terminate a disaster declaration, as currently written the state’s Price Gouging Act subjects all consumer goods and services subject to pricing restrictions for an additional month beyond such termination, impacting every manufacturer, distributor and retailer across the state. The Act as written also institutes price controls on all consumer goods or services, even if they are unrelated to the emergency itself.”