TS Emily: Price-gouging banned in 31 counties including Palm Beach

Charging a lot more for gas, food, lumber and other supplies just got itself branded illegal in Palm Beach, Martin and 29 other counties as a state of emergency exists with Tropical Storm Emily.

Jeff English, the store manager for the Plantation, Fla., Publix grocery store stares at his empty perishable food shelves on Oct. 27, 2005, after Hurricane Wilma destroyed the electrical system powering the store forcing store workers to dispose of perishable foods. (AP Photo/J.Pat Carter)

How much more? State law defines it as a “gross disparity” between the current price and the average for the previous 30 days. That vagueness leaves some wiggle room, but fines after prior storms have often gone to a sprinkling of mom-and-pop operators. Big corporations are less frequently targeted; they have the resources to fight in court if they so choose.

More than 10,000 Floridians complained about price-gouging after 2008’s Hurricane Ike, many about gas prices — though the approach of storms can shut down refineries or otherwise drive up fuel prices. And prices recently jumped 9 cents a gallon in Palm Beach County and are expected to go higher. So it’s complicated.

What’s covered? The price gouging statute  mentions “essential commodities.” The Florida Attorney’s General’s Office says this includes food, water, ice, chemicals, petroleum products, and lumber to protect or fix properties. Examples not deemed essential: Alcoholic drinks and cigarettes.

To report price gouging, call 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.

 

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