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Bill to ban price gouging during public emergencies clears House

Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids) has no love for retailers who jack up prices of essential goods and services during public emergencies.

They are preying on people when they are at their most vulnerable, he said on the House Floor Thursday, in introducing a bill he sponsors to penalize retailers who during public emergency situations charge an “unconscionably excessive price” for essential goods or services.

“I think most Minnesotans are rightly disgusted at the thought of someone making a windfall profit off of another person’s tragedy,” he said.

Passed 72-58, HF6 now goes to the Senate.

A price more than 25% above a seller’s average price during the 60-day period before an executive order declared emergency would be deemed an “unconscionably excessive price.” Violators could be fined up to $1,000 per sale or transaction, with a maximum daily penalty of $25,000.

The attorney general’s office would oversee price gouging investigations and fines.

Essential goods or services that would be protected from excessive price spikes include food, water, fuel, shelter, transportation, health care services, and medical supplies.

Safeguards would be included to prevent retailers from being penalized if price increases are “substantially related to an increase in the cost of manufacturing, replacing, providing, or selling a good or service.”

At a press conference before Thursday’s session, House Majority Leader Jamie Long (DFL-Mpls) said the majority of Minnesotans come together in emergencies and help each other out. Unfortunately, that generous spirit is not universal and consumers need protections against greedy operators.

“We know there will be emergencies again in the future, and we want to make sure that Minnesotans can get the necessities that they need for those crises in that time,” Long said.

Republicans objected to the bill because it would unfairly punish retailers for market factors out of their control.

Rep. Harry Niska (R-Ramsey) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would not penalize a “seller who raises the price of an essential consumer good or service because failure to do so would create further market disruptions or create a constraint on the supply of the good or service.”

Also unsuccessfully offered was an amendment from Rep. Jeff Backer (R-Browns Valley) that would make “a price increase due to inflation caused by state or federal government actions" not an “unconscionably excessive price.”

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