AG Wants New Authority To Crackdown On Price Gougers

By Jon Kalahar - email

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - Days before Gustav entered the Gulf, WLOX News received numerous complaints about gas price gouging. In one extreme case, a coast gas station raised the price of gas by 32 cents a gallon. But station owners weren't breaking any laws. Now the Attorney General wants to change that.

"Because people see one drop in the Gulf and they start going up on their prices," AG Jim Hood said.

Hood is pushing to change state law to get more authority prior to hurricanes like Gustav. He wants to issue his own state of emergency to stop certain business from raising prices on items they know will be in high demand.

"To immediately, when we see one coming toward the Gulf, make that declaration. That way, we can stop those who are just circumventing our state law."

It's not illegal to raise prices before a state of emergency is issued, and even then it's only illegal in the area specified. Governor Haley Barbour declared a state of emergency the Thursday prior to Gustav's landfall.

The Attorney General's office received 350 complaints of price gouging this time. That's down from the close to 1,000 complaints they got after Hurricane Katrina.

"We didn't have it as much. But those that we catch this time and these subpoenas, we made on arrest yesterday or actually wrote a citation on one, they're going to jail. There's no way they're going to be able to tell me that they didn't know about this," Hood said.

To receive the authority to declare a price gouging state of emergency, the legislature must sign off on it. Twice, the attorney general has tried unsuccessfully to get lawmakers to do that. Governor Barbour did not support the bills either time.