SENATE BILL 5191
State of Washington
2021 Regular Session
BySenators Darneille, King, Billig, Carlyle, Conway, Das, Hasegawa, Hunt, Kuderer, Liias, Lovelett, Nguyen, Nobles, Randall, Salomon, Stanford, and Wilson, C.; by request of Attorney General
Read first time 01/13/21.Referred to Committee on Law & Justice.
AN ACT Relating to regulating unfair business practices and prohibiting predatory price increases during states of emergency; adding a new chapter to Title 19
RCW; prescribing penalties; and declaring an emergency.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:
NEW SECTION. Sec. 1. The legislature recognizes the need to protect Washingtonians from excessive and unjustified price increases implemented during or shortly after a declared state of emergency for essential goods and services that are vital and necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of consumers.
The legislature also recognizes the need to support businesses providing these goods in understanding their obligations to consumers during times of potential chaos and uncertainty in the marketplace.
NEW SECTION. Sec. 2. The definitions in this section apply throughout this chapter unless the context clearly requires otherwise.
(1) "Building materials" means lumber, construction tools, windows, and anything else used in the building or rebuilding of property.
(2) "Consumer food item" means any article used or intended for use for food, drink, confection, or condiment by a person or animal.
(3) "Emergency supplies" includes, but is not limited to, water, flashlights, radios, batteries, candles, heating and cooking fuel, blankets, soap, diapers, temporary shelters, tape, toiletries, personal hygiene products, plywood, nails, and hammers.
(4) "Excessive price" means a price more than 10 percent greater than the price at which the person sold, rented, or offered for sale or rent the same product or service immediately prior to the state of emergency defined in subsection (13) of this section. If the seller did not sell, rent, or offer for sale or rent the product or service immediately prior to the onset of the state of emergency defined in subsection (13) of this section, or if the price charged by the person for the product or service prior to the onset of the state of emergency cannot be determined, an excessive price shall be presumed where the price is more than 10 percent greater than the price of the same product or service offered for sale or rent by other similarly situated sellers prior to the state of emergency defined in subsection (13) of this section.
(5) "Gasoline" means any fuel used to power any motor vehicle or power tool.
(6) "Health care services" means services necessary to provide medical care that are provided or arranged by a temporary services agency including, but not limited to, services provided by physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and nursing assistants.
(7) "Housing" means any dwelling or living space offered for rental to a nonowner in exchange for payment to the owner. This definition includes, but is not limited to, housing provided by a hotel or motel and residence at institutions that provide health care, education, or other services in exchange for payment. The exclusion of a form of housing from the residential landlord tenant act, chapter 59.18
RCW, does not exclude it from coverage by this chapter.
(8) "Medical supplies" includes, but is not limited to, prescription and nonprescription medications, pain relievers, infection control and prevention products, bandages, gauze, isopropyl alcohol, and antibacterial products.
(9) "Person" means any natural person, proprietorship, company, firm, corporation, limited liability company, partnership, independent contractor, group, unincorporated association, trust, estate, community, agency, institution, joint venture, other business or government organization, or any other legal entity.
(10) "Personal protective equipment" means any protective equipment that protects against physical, electrical, heat, chemicals, biohazards, and airborne particulate matter including, but not limited to, clothing, helmets, goggles, or other garments or equipment designed to protect the wearer's body from injury or infection.
(11) "Repair or reconstruction services" means work, labor, or services performed by any person for repairs to residential or commercial property of any type that is damaged as a result of a natural or man-made disaster or emergency resulting from an event described in subsection (13) of this section.
(12) "Seller" includes any person within the chain of distribution with authority or permission to adjust, set, or regulate a price of any product or service offered for sale or rent subject to section 3 of this act.
(13) "State of emergency" means a natural or man-made disaster resulting from an epidemic, pandemic, earthquake, flood, fire, riot, storm, volcanic eruption, act of war, threat of war, military action, terrorist attack, or any other event for which a state of emergency has been declared by the governor of the state of Washington or the president of the United States.
(14) "Temporary staffing services company" has the same meaning as set forth in RCW 50.04.245
(15) "Transportation, freight, and storage services" means any service that is performed by a person that contracts to move, store, or transport personal or business property, or rents equipment for those purposes.
NEW SECTION. Sec. 3. (1) The governor may implement this section by an executive order pursuant to RCW 43.06.220. In the event of a state of emergency as defined in section 2 of this act, no person shall sell, rent, or offer to sell or rent, regardless of whether an actual sale or rental occurs, a good or service listed in this section at an excessive price. Goods and services to which this section applies are:
(a) Building materials;
(b) Consumer food items;
(c) Goods or services used for emergency cleanup, regardless of whether the goods or services are listed in this subsection;
(d) Emergency supplies;
(f) Health care services;
(h) Medical supplies;
(i) Repair or reconstruction services;
(j) Transportation, freight, and storage services; and
(k) Personal protective equipment.
(2) A person who increases a price does not violate this section if the price increase is attributable to an additional cost imposed by a supplier of a good or service, or other costs of providing the good or service, including an additional cost for labor or materials used to provide a product or service.
(3) If, in the 60 days prior to the governor's implementation of this section, a person sold, rented, or offered for sale or rent a good or service listed in subsection (2) of this section at a reduced price which was lower than the price at which the person ordinarily sells, rents, or offers for sale or rent the good or service in the area for which the declaration was issued, then the price at which that person ordinarily sells, rents, or offers for sale or rent the good or service in the area for which the declaration was issued shall be used in determining if the person is in violation of this section.
(4) If the 60 days prior to the governor's implementation reflects quarter 4, November through January, holiday pricing, then the price at which the person ordinarily sells, rents, or offers for sale or rent the good or service in the area in which the declaration was issued shall be based on quarter 3, August through October.
NEW SECTION. Sec. 4.
(1) The attorney general may investigate violations of this chapter. The attorney general may issue subpoenas or civil investigative demands pursuant to RCW 19.86.110
to any person that the attorney general has reason to believe has violated this chapter or has information or knowledge pertaining to a violation of this chapter.
(2) The attorney general may issue a cease and desist order to any person to restrain and prevent violations of this chapter. If the recipient of a cease and desist order does not comply within five calendar days of receipt of the order, the attorney general may file an action in superior court at any time thereafter to enforce the cease and desist order. If the court finds that the person violated this chapter and failed to comply with a cease and desist order, the court shall enjoin the person from engaging in conduct that violates this chapter and shall impose a civil penalty of not more than $10,000 per violation of the cease and desist order. In any successful action to enforce a cease and desist order under this chapter, the court shall award the attorney general the costs of bringing the action, including reasonable investigative costs and reasonable attorneys' fees. The remedies under this subsection are in addition to any other remedies a court may order under subsection (3) of this section.
(3) Every person who violates this chapter shall forfeit and pay a civil penalty of no more than $25,000 per violation.
(4) The legislature finds that the practices covered by this chapter are matters vitally affecting the public interest. A violation of this chapter, including, but not limited to, a violation of a cease and desist order issued pursuant to subsection (2) of this section, is not reasonable in relation to the development and preservation of business, and is an unfair or deceptive act in trade or commerce and an unfair method of competition for the purpose of applying the consumer protection act.
(5) The remedies provided by this chapter are in addition to any other remedies provided by law.
NEW SECTION. Sec. 5. Upon application of this act, the office of the attorney general shall produce and maintain on its website translated versions of this act in the top 10 languages spoken in Washington state and, at the discretion of the office of the attorney general, other languages as requested or needed to support small businesses that are either owned or operated, or both, by individuals who have limited English language proficiency. The notice must be made available upon request in printed form on one letter size paper, eight and one-half by 11 inches, and in an easily readable font size.
NEW SECTION. Sec. 6. Sections 1 through 5 of this act constitute a new chapter in Title 19 RCW.
NEW SECTION. Sec. 7. This act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions, and takes effect immediately.
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