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    Hawaii to Allow Price Caps

    Senators approve fuel bill by an 18-7 vote.

    HONOLULU -- The state legislature gave final approval yesterday to a bill allowing Hawaii to become the first state to regulate gasoline prices. The price cap would go into effect in July 2004.

    Gov. Ben Cayetano supports the legislation and has said he would sign the measure to try to lower Hawaii's gasoline prices, traditionally among the highest in the country.

    Senators approved the bill by an 18-7 vote. The House passed the bill 29-21, with one member absent, according to the Associated Press.

    The bill would allow the state Public Utilities Commission to set a maximum price on gasoline based on an average of prices in West Coast markets. Profit margins for dealers would be capped at 16 cents per gallon on regular unleaded gasoline.

    Opponents, who contend the law is an attempt to appease beleaguered consumers in an election year, argue the measure will raise gasoline prices by shuttering gas stations and driving some oil companies from the state completely, further reducing competition.

    "It's going to damage and hurt small business. It's going to hurt every dealer in the state," said Bill Green, an independent Shell dealer in Oahu.

    The national average for regular unleaded gasoline on Thursday was $1.40 per gallon, according to AAA. Average per-gallon prices in Hawaii ranged from $1.60 in Honolulu to $1.88 in Wailuku, the report said.

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