Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida governors have declared states of emergencies in preparation for Tropical Storm Karen, expected to make landfall between southeastern Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle on Saturday night or Sunday morning.
The emergency declarations trigger price gouging laws and hours of service waivers, though so far, only the Mississippi declaration included an hours-of-service waiver.
In Louisiana, the price gouging statute prohibits price increases above the pre-emergency levels unless there is a national or regional market commodity shortage. This means that sellers of gasoline and petroleum products and retailers are prohibited from raising prices during this state of emergency unless they incur a verifiable spike in the prices. The price gouging laws carry both civil and criminal penalties.
Alabama's price gouging law prohibits the "unconscionable pricing" of items for sale or rent. Although what constitutes an unconscionable price is not specifically set forth in state law, a price that is 25 percent or more above the average price charged in the same area within the last 30 days--unless the increase can be attributed to a reasonable cost-- is considered to be unconscionable pricing. The penalty is a fine of up to $1,000 per violation, and those determined to have willfully and continuously violated this law may be prohibited from doing business in Alabama.
In Mississippi, the state's price gouging law allows merchants to pass on verifiable increases in their cost of products, but they cannot increase their average profit margin on products until the executive order is rescinded. Violations of the Mississippi price gouging laws could result in one to five years in prison per count.
Florida Governor Rick Scott issued a declaration of emergency in 18 counties, including: Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Washington, Bay, Gulf, Calhoun, Jackson, Franklin, Liberty, Gadsden, Wakulla, Leon, Jefferson, Madison, and Taylor Counties. Under emergency declaration in Florida, it is unlawful to sell essential commodities for an amount that grossly exceeds the average price for that commodity during the 30 days before the declaration of the state of emergency, unless the seller can justifying the price by showing increases in its prices or market trends. Examples of necessary commodities are food, ice, gas, and lumber.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C. furloughed FEMA employees were being recalled, and administration officials have assured industry stakeholders that staff would be available to respond to waiver requests if necessary.
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