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Utah lawmakers call for updated price gouging law

Utah lawmakers are looking to update price-gouging law amid the coronavirus pandemic. (PHOTO: KSL Newsradio, file.)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Utah lawmakers are looking to update price gouging law amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

A familiar fight

Representative Patrice Arent, a Democrat from Millcreek, is leading the charge.

Arent is familiar with the issue, considering she passed a bill targeting this problem 15 years ago. At the time the goal was to curb the practice of jacking up prices during an emergency, but she says it’s no longer providing sufficient protection to consumers during the current pandemic.

To back up her claim, she’s providing the Legislature’s Business and Labor Interim Committee with some hard numbers.

According to Arent, some bleach and food items have been listed at 265% over cost. A food service business marked up a $9.22 bag of flour 250%. Perhaps most egregious, hand sanitizer has gone for nearly 400% over cost. That’s not to mention toilet paper that went online for an “outrageous” amount.

“I’ve been hearing all kinds of complaints,” Arent told the committee Monday. “It was the one bill I passed that I hoped would never have to be used, and here we are today and we’ve had to use it, and it’s a very serious situation,”

We don’t want companies or individuals to be able to take advantage of consumers during emergencies,” – Representative Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek.

Educating sellers on the law

Daniel O’Bannon, director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, agrees the bill needs updating. He says their division has received 912 complaints about price gouging so far. A major portion of his time has been spent simply educating sellers about the laws in place.

The Deseret News points out a few, including,  if a seller has sold a good previously, the law allows the customary markup plus 10%. If a seller has not sold a good previously, it can charge 30% over the cost of obtaining the good.

O’Bannon’s division is hoping a new bill will clarify which goods and services are more clearly “necessary” for an emergency than others.