Bill empowers the commissioner of the state's Department of Consumer Protection to declare a violation as an unfair or deceptive trade practice.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following was featured as an "opinion" piece in the April 6 edition of Connecticut community newspapers published by Foothills Media Group.
From the Office of State Sen. KEVIN WITKOS
While we are still quite familiar with the two most recent storms that left thousands without power for a week or more, we must also remember back to the winter of 2010-2011, when snow blanketed much of our state. In fact, many were sincerely concerned about how this would affect their roofs since many of the structures in our area are not built to support this increased weight. During this time, reports also surfaced of unfair prices for snow removal services, and at the General Assembly, we decided that something had to be done to ensure that price gouging does not occur during future severe weather events.
After this year’s remarkably mild winter, it is hard to imagine how we managed with above average snowfall totaling over seven feet. Looking back, members of the National Guard were called out to help towns clear snow off of their school roofs to make sure that they did not collapse. Historic barns were also lost after aged timber gave way. We remember how many homeowners rushed out to purchase roof rakes in an attempt to shovel some of the snow off of their roofs. Many were not even familiar that such a tool even existed until we were faced with this new challenge. Luckily, current state law prohibits price gouging on products, but we found it to lack protection on services.
Originally introduced last session, a bill that would prohibit price gouging for services has successfully passed out of the General Law Committee by a vote of 17 to one. Senate Bill 60, “An Act Prohibiting Price Gouging During Severe Weather Events,” would effectively prevent this by giving more power to the state Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) to pursue alleged incidents. According to the bill, these protections cover “lodging, snow removal, flood abatement and post-storm cleanup or repair services.”
While times of turmoil often bring out the best in people, whether they volunteer or donate supplies, it can also encourage those who see profit in other’s vulnerability. During the heavy snowfall and other more recent emergencies, we have heard reports of unreasonably high prices for goods and services. These isolated occurrences are unfortunate, and we want to make sure that they do not happen again. If passed, this bill empowers the commissioner of the DCP to declare a violation as an unfair or deceptive trade practice. This allows for investigating complaints, issuing cease and desist orders and to order restitution in cases under $5,000 among other options.
Ultimately, price gouging is simply unacceptable. During times of crisis or emergency, we must ensure that businesses and consumers maintain a fair relationship between supply and demand for goods and services. With about one month remaining in this year’s legislative session, it is my hope that legislators will join together to support this important bill. It will help protect our families from unfair price gouging during future severe weather events. If you would like to learn more about this bill, please visit the Connecticut General Assembly website at www.cga.ct.gov and search for S.B. 60.
Sen. Witkos (www.SenatorWitkos.com) represents the 8th Senate District, including the communities of Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury and Torrington. He can be reached by phone at 1-800-842-1421 or by email at Kevin.Witkos@cga.ct.gov.