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Councilman aims to outlaw profiteering, price-gouging of essential goods in Lincoln
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Councilman aims to outlaw profiteering, price-gouging of essential goods in Lincoln

From the Latest updates on coronavirus in Lincoln and nearby series
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Lincoln needs to outlaw price-gouging during emergencies such as this pandemic, City Councilman James Michael Bowers said Monday. 

While not providing specific examples of recent price-gouging, Bowers said during a public hearing on his ordinance that he and other council members have heard from constituents concerned about shortages of protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

"As supplies run out in stores, the only access some people had to these products were from others reselling from their own stock, unfortunately at an excessive price," Bowers said.

The problem drew the attention of attorneys general across the U.S., including Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, who warned online marketplaces such as Amazon and Facebook to police price-gouging on their platforms. 

For example, a 2-liter bottle of hand sanitizer had been marked up to $250 in a post on Craigslist, according to Peterson's news release. 

To date, Peterson's staff continue to review price-gouging complaints, but they have not filed any legal action against suspected profiteers, spokeswoman Suzanne Gage said Monday.

Under Bowers' proposal, Lincoln police would have the power to issue tickets to sellers suspected to have unreasonably marked up food, water, building materials or cleaning supplies during an emergency. 

And the city attorney could seek a court order blocking further sales and compelling compliance with the ordinance, under Bowers' proposal.

If Omaha can have a city ordinance outlawing ticket scalping, Lincoln should have a law banning this kind of profiteering of vital items during an emergency, he said. 

Isabel Salas, a community organizer, testified in support of the measure. She said the fear some had of the virus or their inability to leave their homes repeatedly to hunt for items such as toilet paper or disinfectant on store shelves makes them susceptible to profiteers. 

Violating the ordinance would be akin to a speeding ticket, and each day a price-gouged item remained for sale would be considered a new offense. 

No one testified in opposition to the ordinance, which will be voted on May 18. 

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Photos: The scene in Lincoln during the pandemic

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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