Senate Panel Approves Ward’s Amendments to Price Gouging Act

HARRISBURG – The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee took action to protect businesses and consumers by passing a bill that would address problems related to the state’s Price Gouging Act, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Judy Ward (R-30).

Senate Bill 139 would prevent unintended consequences of the law by requiring the Governor to specifically activate pricing restrictions when declaring an emergency. This provision would ensure price restrictions are only placed on businesses when absolutely necessary.

The bill would also limit the duration of pricing restrictions to 15 days (with extensions up to 60 days), limit the scope to goods and services necessary for use or consumption, and simplify the compliance process for businesses. Currently, an emergency declaration can last for a total of 120 days, thus placing price controls on all products for an unusually long period of time.

“The Price Gouging Act is an essential protection for consumers, but the law has not kept up with the times. We have seen price restrictions put in place during March snowstorms that continue through the Fourth of July, when the impact of that disaster is a distant memory,” Ward said. “Governor Wolf’s open-ended disaster declaration regarding the opioid epidemic is another example. That placed a whole host of restrictions on all manufacturers, distributors and retailers that remain in place indefinitely. That was never the intent of the law.”

Ward’s bill also includes new protections for consumers by providing guidance on violations for businesses. The original law prohibited sellers from charging “unconscionably excessive” prices, but did not adequately define what that term meant. The legislation would reduce the threshold that triggers a price gouging violation from 20 percent to 10 percent.

“There is a clear need for a strong price gouging law that protects consumers against unscrupulous merchants who try to profit off the suffering of others, but we also need to make sure that the law is not so restrictive that every business is negatively impacted for months or years by every disaster declaration,” Ward said. “My goal is to strike a strong balance between the needs of businesses and consumers, and to clearly define what constitutes a violation.”

Senate Bill 139 was sent to the full Senate for consideration.

CONTACT:  Cheryl Schriner (717) 787-5490