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With coronavirus price gouging including $13 toilet paper, Yost wants consumer-protection law - News - The Columbus Dispatch


Sticker shock:

• $12.99 for a four-pack of toilet paper.

• $5.68 for a half-gallon of milk.

•  $16.99 for a case of water.

• $12.99 for a spray can of disinfectant.

• $79.97 for a pack of surgical masks. Typical price: $25.

• A brick of gun ammunition marked up 33%.

With some items held hostage at high prices amid the coronavirus epidemic, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost wants lawmakers to enact an anti-price gouging law.

“I’m outraged that anybody would try to profiteer on a crisis, particularly on items that are necessary for the health and safety of Ohioans,” Yost said in a statement Thursday.

Yost said his office is working on a bill to nullify weaknesses in existing laws as some retailers jack up prices beyond what seems to be driven by increased costs from suppliers.

His office has received more than 150 complaints alleging unconscionable pricing by sellers ranging from major retailers to convenience stores, one of which was buying $2.89-a-gallon milk at Kroger and then marking it up to $5.99.

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Ohio does not have a law that deals directly with price gouging, but it bans unconscionable sales practices.

A practice could be considered unconscionable if the business knew the sales price was substantially higher than normal or if prices of stock on the shelf were higher due to the pandemic.

“We don’t have a price gouging law in Ohio because we believe in free markets, but free markets don’t include the idea of holding toilet paper and surgical masks hostage,” Yost said.

Enforcing current laws can be difficult, Yost said, because they do not include price gouging in the definition of unconscionable practices.

“We need a law that can tell the difference between someone who’s price gouging and somebody who’s reacting to normal price pressures of the market,” he said.

Yost’s office previously spoke with major retailers, which said they would not profiteer on products in demand amid the public health emergency.

Ohioans with price-gouging complaints can contact the attorney general’s office at www.ohioprotects.org or 1-800-282-0515.

State legislators are scheduled to return to Columbus next week with the goal of passing a number of bills related to the coronavirus outbreak, including setting a new date for Ohio’s postponed primary.

“These items are in the drafting stages, and no details are available as of yet,” House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, said in a memo Thursday to fellow House members. “We continue to learn about the advancement of the virus and how it’s dealt with, and we realize it is a work in progress.

“The actions that we will take next week are merely items that have been identified as needing to be addressed to date and not the legislature’s total response to the issue.”

Dispatch Reporter Anna Staver contributed to this story.

rludlow@dispatch.com

@RandyLudlow

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