CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislators apparently will spend a year studying whether to repeal the state's Unfair Trade Practices Act, after senators Thursday were unsure whether proposed legislation would help or hurt consumers.
The long-standing law is intended to keep large companies from driving competitors out of business by providing goods or services below cost. By law, retailers must mark up prices by at least 7 percent more than cost.
Opponents of the law contend that, instead of encouraging competition, it keeps consumer prices artificially high -- especially for gasoline.
"This bill is clearly about the citizens of West Virginia, to give them the opportunity to buy the least expensive gas on the market without artificial controls," said Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said in a floor speech Thursday advocating for the act's repeal.
However, by the end of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday afternoon, the bill to repeal the act (SB491) had been replaced with a resolution to study the issue in interim committee for a year.
That was after concerns were raised in committee that repealing the act would allow large corporate "big-box" retailers to drive smaller competitors out of business, ultimately giving them a price monopoly.
"This is the essence of the argument: Do we foster competition and drive down prices, or do we eliminate competition?" questioned Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley.
Jan Vineyard, who represents the oil marketers' organization OMEGA, argued that gasoline is a unique product in that its prices are posted on large, outdoor signs.