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Pandemic price gouging continues while lawmakers push for state, federal laws

Hand sanitizer
Posted at 6:27 PM, Jun 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-20 00:22:53-04

PHOENIX — “Sold out” are words we have seen many times during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially on health essentials. Those same items have shown up online where re-sellers are charging well over regular price.

In just the last week, 5 months into the pandemic, hand sanitizer was still being sold for inflated prices online. It's called ‘price-gouging’ and there is no law to prevent it.

State Representative Kirsten Engel feels that enough is enough. Three months after she introduced an anti-price gouging law, and it failed to even get to a vote, she wants to try again.

"I think that fits solidly within the type of issues we'd like to address during a special session," Engel says.

Meanwhile, there is another price-gouging bill at the federal level. Congressmen Ruben Gallego and Greg Stanton are backing it.

"We're trying to get it rolled into the next coronavirus aid bill," Gallego said.

The bill allows authorities to go after those who use a "public health emergency to increase prices unreasonably." Gallego points to companies, he said, tried selling the City of Phoenix protective gear marked up 600%. He believes taxpayers would be paying the extra costs.

In that case, Gallego said the companies backed down when he and Stanton went public.

"There is no law to back me up. Basically, I had to use public shame to do that," he said.

The federal bill has few specifics right now, and it is tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gallego explained that it is a start and, if passed, could be used as a precedent for other, similar emergencies.

While he says the bill targets big business, it also makes provisions for consumer gouging by mentioning food, beverages, and hygiene products.

For months now, the Let Joe Know team has been finding and exposing this kind of gouging. Engel thinks the federal bill would be a good alternative, but after seeing what's going on during this pandemic, she is still pushing for a state law.

At this time, there is no scheduled date for the state bill to be heard or any indication if it has Republican support.

No matter federal or state, in both bills, the state Attorney General could be the enforcer. Yet, Attorney General Mark Brnovich has remained quiet on his position.

In an email to ABC15, his office said, in part, "he is not going to weigh in on proposed federal and state legislation at this time. These are policy questions that should be addressed by elected lawmakers."

That is a very different position than the one former Attorney General Terry Goddard took while in office. Goddard tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to get lawmakers to pass an anti-price gouging law.