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    New Jersey Senate Toughens Price-Gouging Fines

    Approved bill allows the state to suspend a gasoline retailer's license for 30 days for the first violation and revoke it for additional offenses.

    TRENTON, N.J. -- The Senate Transportation Committee approved a bill that would toughen fines for gas station operators who raise the price of gasoline more than once in a 24-hour period, reported the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger . The legislation is designed to prevent the type of gasoline price gouging New Jersey found after Hurricane Katrina.

    The fine would rise from $50 to as much as $1,500 for the first offense, and up to $3,000 for additional offenses. It also allows the state to suspend a gasoline retailer's license for 30 days for the first violation and revoke it for additional offenses, according to the report.

    "If the gas gougers laughed off the law last time around, these fines should at least give them straight faces and maybe even straighten out their operations," Sen. Nicholas J. Sacco, a prime sponsor of the bill, told the Star-Ledger .

    Claiming it was necessary because Gulf Coast refineries were affected by Hurricane Katrina in late August, gas stations raised the price of regular gas to more than $3 a gallon in New Jersey in late October. But during that time, the state Division of Consumer Affairs filed gouging complaints against at least 104 distributors and station operators, reported the Star-Ledger .

    "Consumers literally were blown away by the behavior of some sellers of gasoline after Hurricane Katrina," Sen. Shirley K. Turner, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said in the report. "Clearly, there were cases of greed which merited sanctions because consumers were victimized terribly."

    The panel also approved a bill that would increase the penalties for stealing fuel, according to the newspaper.

    "The supply of fuel and prices seem to be stabilizing, but this is a good law to have in place for the next time we experience an energy crisis," Sen. Joe Kyrillos, the sponsor, told the Star-Ledger .

    The approved bills now move to the full Senate.

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