Will Lawmakers Repeal the Unfair Trade Practices Act?
A debate that started during the 2014 legislative session continued during interim meetings in Charleston Sunday. State lawmakers are still questioning if a 1939 law affects today’s gas prices.
Jan Vineyard, president of the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association or OMEGA, addressed lawmakers during a Joint Government Organization and Operations meeting in the House Chamber about the state's Unfair Trade Practices Act which has been in state law for more than 70 years.
During the 2014 legislative session, Sen. Herb Snyder led a charge for repeal of that act, but his attempt failed.
“The Unfair Trade Practices Act was created to maintain fair and healthy competition. The law was put into place in 1939 largely due to the practice of then chain grocer A&P Supermarkets," Vineyard told lawmakers.
Vineyard says at the time the grocery chain A&P was moving into small towns in West Virginia and cutting their prices so low that the local mom and pop shops couldn’t compete.
Once they forced the competition out of business, A&P jacked up prices causing the state legislature to step in.
The act makes it illegal for a retailer to sell their product below cost and allows them to mark up their goods by up to 7 percent. Snyder said its that provision that's allowing gasoline retailers to hike up their prices.
Vineyard, though, disagreed saying should the bill be repealed, locally owned gasoline retailers would be hurt along with the average West Virginian.
“By repealing the law, this would incent large out of state corporations, the haves who have the overwhelming advantage of volume purchasing, to lower their prices to drive local West Virginia operations out of business. Once that occurs, these large chains would have free reign to charge what they want, leaving the state’s residents, in this example the have nots, with potentially higher fuel costs yet and fewer choices and less access to gasoline and other products.”
Snyder was the former chair of the Senate Committee on Government Organization which looked at the law during interims. Sen. Craig Blair signed on as a co-sponsor of the repeal legislation in 2014 and will now chair the senate committee.