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County issues anti-price gouging order

Tuesday, February 23, 2021 by Seth Smalley

Last Thursday, in partnership with the Office of the Travis County Judge, the Travis County Attorney’s Office drafted an order prohibiting price-gouging for the duration of the Texas energy crisis. At an emergency session of the Commissioners Court, County Attorney Delia Garza briefed the commissioners on the disaster order, possible penalties, enforcement policy, and public education resources regarding price gouging.

Garza explained that, while price gouging is already illegal in the state via the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, the order will help facilitate enforcement, prescribing up to $250,000 in civil penalties per violation.

Garza offered some examples: “We’ve seen hotels that normally charge $100 a night charging $1,000 a night. And now people have been able to move back to their homes, we’ve gotten complaints about water; a case of water normally selling for $4 now selling for $100. The ability to enforce against price gouging during the disaster is triggered by the government’s emergency order, supplemented by Judge (Andy) Brown’s order.”

Garza explained that the attorney’s office and the county judge’s office collaborated to develop an online resource to help educate the public. Calling it a “boots-on-the-ground approach,” she said the web page instructs consumers how to recognize instances of price gouging and how to formally file a complaint, adding, “We hope that it serves both to educate the public and to deter illegal activity.”

The page defines price gouging and distinguishes it from run-of-the-mill high pricing: “Texas is currently in a declared state of emergency. If a business has raised the price of fuel, food, medicine, lodging, building materials, construction tools, or another necessity to an exorbitant or excessive amount, this is ‘price gouging’ and it is illegal.”

The page is accessible via a link on the front page of the county website. Residents may also call (512) 854-1289 or may email complaints and concerns about sellers to consumer@traviscountytx.gov.

“It’s a resource you can provide your constituents during this very trying time for help in a variety of ways, and a variety of things for your constituents,” Garza told the commissioners.

Commissioner Brigid Shea thanked Garza and her staff for their speedy action, saying, “This is the kind of tool we can get out quickly and it’s going to be really important to protect people.”

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, which is the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor. This story has been corrected to fix a typo.

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