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Politics & Government

Should Price Gouging Include Profit Margins? Idaho Legislature Says No

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It’s now up to Gov. Brad Little to decide what Idaho defines as price gouging after House lawmakers passed a bill that would exempt regulators from considering profit margins.

Last year, Idaho’s three largest gas retailers settled with regulators over price gouging allegations. The state said these businesses didn’t lower fuel prices even though oil prices plummeted during the first few weeks of the pandemic.

They have one year to give customers $1.5 million in gas discounts.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in an op-ed said gas retailers’ profit margins generally hover around $0.10 per gallon, though the industry says it’s closer to $0.20 per gallon. Wasden said those profits ballooned to $0.63 per gallon three weeks into the pandemic.

Republican Rep. John Vander Woude, who used to own convenience stores with his son, said profits did go up.

“Yes, we did make decent money, but that was the only place we were making money in the convenience store was through gas because we didn’t have the people going to work, buying their snacks,” Vander Woude said.

“When it’s difficult to keep your business open, the AG went after the only thing that was profitable at the time and decided he needed to shut that down,” he said.

The proposal would bar the Idaho Attorney General’s Office from investigating businesses if they didn’t increase prices on food, fuel, medicine or water during an emergency.

A handful of lawmakers voted against it, saying this change could be bad for consumers.

The bill passed with veto-proof majorities in both chambers and heads to the governor’s desk.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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