Legislators stood Thursday to speak to legislation that has not yet made it to the floor. Senate Bill 368 was introduced by Senator Herb Snyder early in the session repealing unfair trade practices.
The bill focuses on a section of code written in the late 1930s. At the time, many states and the federal government put laws in place that prevented major retailers from undercutting the prices of mom and pop stores, forcing them out of business.
Since, Snyder said many gas retailers across the state have used that same decades old law to file lawsuits against companies who open shop in a new area and sell their fuel at significantly lower prices.
He said it’s that practice that is causing significant price increases in gas in the Eastern Panhandle, but members of the oil and gas lobby are protesting its consideration.
“You’re getting calls from those people I remind you that are in the oil marketing business. Every one of them. Mr. President, this bill is not about those people and whether they’re going to compete with each other as this bill will make it in the open and free market. Mr. President, this bill is about the 99.9% of West Virginians that aren’t making profits from the sale of gasoline and fuels. This bill is clearly about the citizens of West Virginia to give them the opportunity to buy the least expensive gas on the open market without artificial controls by law and it’s not a question of will they use Chapter 47-11-1A to inflate prices. They have.”
Senator Sam Cann stood to question the bill, however, saying he’s not positive it’s the best way to help small businesses outside of the gas industry across the state.
“We always talk about small businesses in West Virginia and what do we do to help them? I believe that we have a lot of small businesses that could be harmed if we take this action. I worry about Ace Hardware in my neighborhood competing with Lowes and Home Depot. I worry about Food Fresh staying open when competing with Sam's. You know, the big box stores have the advantage on a volume basis and if this rule and this law stays in place and it helps a number of these small business, because I don’t believe it’s just about the oil marketers. I don’t believe it’s just about gasoline. I believe it’s about a lot of small mom and pop industries, little shops and stores that we need to make sure we’re not harming if we take this action.”
That statement sparked comments from Senator Doug Facemire, a grocer who started his own chain in northern and central West Virginia.
Facemire said it’s impossible for the small owners to compete with big box stores like Wal Mart or Sams because of their buying power, but he believes Senators should be looking at what’s best for citizens.
“We owe it to the citizens of our state to open up a system where the real capitalist market takes place. We all complain about the fair and unfair trade rules that our country has to face when doing business across the seas. It’s the same thing today. The only thing this bill does is let the big boys bigger and the small people suffer because they will always have a better cost of goods. The way the bill is written, it really doesn’t offer protection and let’s stop and think who’s in here complaining. A lot of it’s the big guys. Thank you Mr. President.”
Snyder’s bill is single referenced to Judiciary, but has yet to be put on the committee’s calendar.