When the next hurricane or major snowstorm hits Connecticut, Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney and his colleagues have an idea that will keep plowers and roofers from ripping people off.
Several Democratic lawmakers used Goody’s Hardware & Paint, a fourth generation family-owned business in East Haven, as the backdrop for their press conference on how the government can help prevent price gouging during emergencies.
Looney, an attorney, who was unable to attend because he was representing a client in court, explained later Wednesday afternoon his quest to protect consumers in the wake of a storm.
“Consumers need to be aware that state government is their advocate,” he said. “Last winter’s severe weather demonstrated that Connecticut consumers are vulnerable to price gouging for services and lodging. We intend to extend the state’s price gouging ban beyond the goods it covers now.”
Connecticut law currently bans businesses from price-gouging people on scarce items in an emergency situation, like generators, dry ice or perishable food. The law, which goes into effect once the governor declares a state of emergency, was introduced in 1986 after Hurricane Gloria.
Senate Democrats, along with their colleagues in the House who pitched the idea last November, want to extend that law to cover services, like roof clearing or repair, and lodging, in case a family needs to stay in a hotel for weeks after a major storm. The change will keep people from paying much more than they need to and keep businesses from making unfair profits.
Looney said a similar bill made it through the General Law Committee and the state Senate last year, but there wasn’t enough time to get it through the House.
Other state lawmakers at Goody’s included state Rep. James Albis of East Haven, state Senate President Donald Williams and state Sen. Paul Doyle, co-chairman of the General Law Committee.
If the legislation passes, protection for services and lodging will go into effect once the governor declares a state of emergency, Looney said. Consumers will then file complaints with the Department of Consumer Protection or the Attorney General’s office. Both departments will help consumers handle their complaints in civil court.
Williams said they will work with the Department of Consumer Protection to launch a campaign that will spread the word and inform people on how to file complaints.
Rob Katz’s family has owned Goody’s in East Haven since 1933. After the October snow storm, many customers came into the store saying snow removal was expensive and could take up to two weeks, Katz said.
The elderly crowd seemed to have the most difficult time finding affordable and fast services, he said.
“I think it’s good, protecting the consumers,” Katz said. “Especially the elderly crowd.”
Looney said he thinks the legislation will also help small businesses like Goody’s maintain trust and strong relationships with their customers.
The Senate Democrats proposed other ideas at Goody’s, too. Williams said they’re going to propose banning the sale of personal tracking devices, for example.
The devices they’re looking to ban aren’t the same GPS systems used by motorists. Williams said this bill will target smaller devices on the market that can be placed secretly in cars or on people.
The devices can lead to dangerous domestic violence or stalking situations, he said.
Looney said the Democrats will also propose legislation to stop the unnecessary collection of Social Security numbers.
“Many businesses that do not need the Social Security number to conduct their business with the consumer still include a dedicated space on forms for the number,” he said in a statement. “The collection of these numbers is unnecessary and, as we have seen time and again, a recipe for disaster.”
Lastly, the Democrats want businesses that use monthly trial programs or introductory rates to let their customers know when the time’s up and the real payment starts.
Another bill they plan to propose will require these businesses to provide notifications when trial programs expire, so they can make a decision on whether they want to start making normal payments.
Since this is the short legislative session all legislation will have to be raised by committees, and not individual lawmakers.