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    Legislators Drop Pricing Penalties

    Oil company, convenience store chains opposed provision.

    JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Ignoring the wishes of Gov. Bob Holden, legislators have dropped proposed penalties for businesses that engage in price gouging. House and Senate members negotiating a massive anti-terrorism bill removed the price-gouging provision on an 8-1 vote, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported.

    The price-gouging provision previously had passed the House but had not been debated in the Senate. It was proposed as part of the state?s response to the Sept. 11 attacks. But the pricing provision was strongly opposed by the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.

    Chief among the organization?s concerns was that the bill could have allowed businesses to be charged with price gouging anytime, not just during disasters.

    Price gouging became an issue when an investigation by Attorney General Jay Nixon found that 48 Missouri service stations raised motor fuel prices above $2.49 a gallon following the terrorist attacks, the report said. The gas stations were required to pay fines of $750 or three times their profits for Sept. 11 - whichever was larger - plus $250 in investigative costs.

    The state collected more than $49,700 in fines and another $10,250 in legal fees. Under the bill passed by the House, a person found guilty of price gouging could have faced a fine of up to $3,000 or twice the amount of money made illegally.

    Opponents of the House bill said there was no need to change state law. "Right now the attorney general has sufficient authority and power to investigate and prosecute alleged price gougers," said Ronald Leone, executive vice president of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.

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