Lawmakers seek increased consumer protections during the pandemic

Washington D.C. Bureau

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NEXSTAR) — As the coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S. so are scams.

Lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee want the Federal Trade Commission to act, specifically on price gouging. 

“People need help and support,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA. “They don’t need deception and schemes, and we need an FTC that will be more aggressive.”

Cantwell gave examples of recent spikes in drug costs, oil prices, and electricity rates, along with pandemic-related supplies like protective equipment and hand sanitizer. She plans to introduce legislation to give the FTC more power in these cases by clarifying the definition of price gouging and enforcing civil penalties for deceptive COVID-19 scams.

During a committee hearing Wednesday on oversight of the FTC, Chairman Joe Simons told Cantwell he supports the idea.

“We would vigorously support and enforce legislation if Congress passed a law on price gouging,” Simons said. 

Simons said the bill should include time limits, definitions of the products covered and what constitutes an excessive price increase, and carve-outs for offsetting the increases.

Senators also focused on an executive order President Trump issued in May that aims to prevent censorship on social media platforms.

Simons said the FTC hasn’t taken any action to enforce the order.

“So Mr. Chairman, you don’t view political speech as within your jurisdiction?,” asked Sen. Roger Wicker, R-MS.

“Correct,” Simons said.

Wicker expressed concerns about laws that say online platforms are not responsible for the content they host, following a House hearing with Big Tech leaders last week.

“These platforms are awfully big and too powerful,” he said. 

FTC commissioners agreed tech companies abuse those laws, but what should happen next remains up for debate.

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