Download this document in MS Word format


AutoFill Template

H.762

Introduced by   Representatives Obuchowski of Rockingham, Atkins of Winooski, Chen of Mendon, Hunt of Essex, Jewett of Ripton and McFaun of Barre Town

Referred to Committee on

Date:

Subject:  Commerce and trade; consumer fraud; petroleum products; price gouging

Statement of purpose:  This bill proposes to protect consumers from excessive and unjustified increases in the prices charged for petroleum products, heating fuel products, and electricity after abnormal market disruptions and to set requirements for pre-buy contracts for home heating oil or liquefied petroleum gas.  This bill also requires persons acquiring controlling stock or substantial assets from a business engaged in gasoline sales or heating oil sales in Vermont to provide notice of the acquisition to the attorney general's office.

AN ACT RELATING TO PRICE GOUGING OF PETROLEUM PRODUCTS, HEATING FUEL PRODUCTS, AND ELECTRICITY, REQUIREMENTS FOR PRE-BUY CONTRACTS, AND NOTICE OF ACQUISITION

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:


Sec. 1.  9 V.S.A. §§ 2461d, 2461e, and 2461f are added to read:

§ 2461d.  PRICE GOUGING OF PETROLEUM PRODUCTS, HEATING

                FUEL PRODUCTS, AND ELECTRICITY

(a)  It is an unfair and deceptive act and practice in commerce and a violation of section 2453 of this title for any petroleum or heating fuel-related business or seller of electricity during a market emergency to sell or offer to sell any petroleum product, heating fuel product, or electricity for an amount that represents an unconscionably high price.

(b)  A price is unconscionably high if:

(1)  the amount charged represents a gross disparity between the price of the petroleum product, heating fuel product, or electricity and:

(A)  the price at which the same product was sold or offered for sale in the usual course of business immediately prior to the onset of the market emergency; or

(B)  the price at which the same or similar petroleum product, heating fuel product, or electricity is readily obtainable by other buyers in the trade area; and

(2)  the disparity is not substantially attributable to increased prices charged by the petroleum product, heating fuel product, or electricity suppliers or increased costs due to a market emergency.

(c)  It shall be a rebuttable presumption that a price is unconscionably high if:

(1)   the difference between the amount charged for the petroleum product, heating fuel product, or electricity and the cost at which the product or electricity was obtained by the seller during the shorter of seven days or the length of the market emergency is more than 25 percent greater than the difference between the amount charged for the petroleum product, heating fuel product, or electricity and the cost at which the product or electricity was obtained by the seller immediately prior to the market emergency.

(2)  the difference between the amount charged for the petroleum product, heating fuel product, or electricity during the shorter of seven days or the length of the market emergency and the amount charged for the petroleum product, heating fuel product, or electricity immediately prior to the market emergency is more than 25 percent.

(d)  Definitions.  For the purposes of this section:

(1)  A market emergency shall be declared jointly or independently by the governor and attorney general.  The market emergency shall continue for 30 days or until terminated by the governor or attorney general.  The governor or attorney general may extend the market emergency for additional 30-day periods.  “Market emergency” means any abnormal disruption of any market for petroleum products, heating fuel products, or electricity, including any actual or threatened shortage in the supply of petroleum products, heating fuel products, or electricity or any actual or threatened increase in the price of petroleum products, heating fuel products, or electricity resulting from severe weather, convulsion of nature, failure or shortage of electric power or other source of energy, strike, civil disorder, act of war, terrorist attack, national or local emergency, or other extraordinary adverse circumstances.  A market emergency shall be declared jointly or independently by the governor and attorney general.

(2)  “Petroleum or heating fuel product” means motor fuels, liquefied petroleum gas, fuel oil, kerosene, and wood pellets used for heating or cooking purposes.

(3)  “Petroleum or heating fuel-related business” means any producer, supplier, wholesaler, distributor, or retail seller of any petroleum or heating fuel product.

(e)  In addition to the remedies set forth in sections 2458 and 2461 of this title, a petroleum or heating fuel-related business or seller of electricity may bring an action for a violation of this section against its petroleum or heating fuel product suppliers.  The petroleum or heating fuel-related business or seller of electricity bringing the action may recover all remedies available to consumers under subsection 2461(b) of this title.


§ 2461e.  REQUIREMENTS FOR PRICE PROTECTION AND PREPAID

                CONTRACTS

     (a)  A contract for the retail sale of home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas that offers a guaranteed price plan, including fixed price contracts and any other similar terms, shall be in writing and the terms and conditions of such price plans shall be disclosed.  Such disclosure shall be in plain language and shall immediately follow the language concerning the price or service that could be affected and shall be printed in no less than 12-point boldface type of uniform font.  A solicitation for the retail sale of home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas that offers a guaranteed price plan that could become a contract upon a response from a consumer, including fixed price contracts and any other similar terms, shall be in writing and the terms and conditions of such offer shall be disclosed in plain language.

     (b)(1)  No home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas dealer shall enter into a prepaid contract to provide home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas to a consumer unless that dealer has either:

(A)  within seven days of the acceptance of the contract obtained and maintained heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas contracts or other similar commitments that allow the dealer to purchase, at a fixed price, heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas in an amount not less than 75 percent of the maximum number of gallons that the dealer is committed to deliver pursuant to all prepaid contracts entered into by the dealer; or

(B)  obtained and maintained a surety bond in an amount not less than 50 percent of the total amount of funds paid to the dealer by consumers pursuant to prepaid heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas contracts.

(2)  A dealer shall maintain the amount of futures contracts or the amount of the surety bond required by this subsection for the period of time for which the prepaid home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas contracts are effective, except that the amount of the futures contracts or surety bond may be reduced during such period of time to reflect any amount of home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas already delivered to and paid for by the consumer.

     (c)(1)  A prepaid home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas contract shall indicate: 

(A)  the amount of funds paid by the consumer to the dealer under the contract;

(B)  the maximum number of gallons of home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas committed by the dealer for delivery to the consumer pursuant to the contract; and

(C)  that the performance of the prepaid contract is secured by one of the two options described in subsection (b) of this section. 

(2)  Any contract described in this subsection shall provide that the contract price of any undelivered home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas owed to the consumer under the contract at the end date of the contract shall be reimbursed to the consumer not later than 30 days after the end date of the contract unless the parties to the contract agree otherwise.

(d)  In addition to the remedies set forth in sections 2458 and 2461 of this title, a home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas dealer may bring an action against its heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas suppliers for failing to honor its contract with the home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas dealer.  The home heating oil, kerosene, or liquefied petroleum gas dealer bringing the action may recover all remedies available to consumers under subsection 2461(b) of this title.

§ 2461f.  NOTICE OF ACQUISITION OF GASOLINE AND HEATING OIL

                ASSETS

(a)  Definitions.  As used in this section, unless the context otherwise indicates, the following terms have the following meanings.

(1)  "Gasoline sales" means the retail sale of internal combustion fuel for motor vehicles.

(2)  "Heating oil sales" means the retail sale of #2 fuel oil used for heating residential, industrial, or commercial space or water.

(b)  Prohibition.  A person may not acquire, directly or indirectly, from a business engaged in gasoline sales or heating oil sales in this state, without prior notice as required under subsection (c) of this section:

(1)  Controlling stock; or

(2)  Substantial assets that include those used in gasoline sales or heating oil sales.

(c)  Report.  The person acquiring stock or assets under subsection (b) of this section shall provide notice of this acquisition to the attorney general’s office at least 30 days prior to the date of acquisition.  That period may be shortened with the consent of the attorney general.



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us