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Assemblywoman Nily Rozic's bill that would crackdown on virus profiteers passes in the legislature.

As the New York state Legislature went back into session after a six-week pause amid the COVID-19 outbreak, one of its first orders of business was to pass Assemblywoman Nily Rozic’s legislation that cracks down on “virus profiteers” who engage in pandemic price gouging.

The bill empowers Attorney General Letitia James to enforce anti-price gouging law against those ripping off hospitals and the government. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed flaws in the state price gouging statute and this legislation will go a long way to ensure that New Yorkers have access to the products and care required without paying excessive and unreasonable prices,” Rozic said. “While we continue to work to contain the spread of disease, we must protect consumers when they are particularly vulnerable. This legislation would ensure that no one can prey on consumers’ fears and cause widespread panic during a health crisis.”

If signed into law, the bill would expand the Attorney General’s Office ability to crack down on price gouging. The AG would have increased flexibility to identify goods and services where the price gouging laws should apply. 

The bill also increases the maximum civil penalty for price gouging to $25,000 per violation. Manhattan state Senator Brad Hoylman carried the measure in the upper chamber.

“Virus profiteers and scam artists tried to rip off New Yorkers, selling medical supplies at sky-high prices to desperate hospitals and local governments,” Hoylman said. “It’s unconscionable that someone would use the COVID-19 crisis as a way to make a quick buck.”

In April, New York State paid up to 20 times the normal price for medical supplies like gloves and masks. Since the state of emergency began, the attorney general’s office has received at least 5,750 consumer complaints of price gouging during the coronavirus public health crisis.

“It is vitally important that the state has all the necessary tools to protect New Yorkers against those seeking to take advantage in this pandemic,” James said. “This common-sense measure will enable my office to better protect consumers, small businesses, health care providers, and even the state from price gouging. Over the last three months, we have received over 5,500 price gouging complaints related to the COVID-19, which is why we are focused on protecting all New Yorkers now and in the future.”

Eric Linzer, president and CEO of the New York Health Plan Association, said the measure is an important tool to deter entities from exploiting the public health crisis for profit so that health care can remain affordable for consumers and employers.

“We appreciate the leadership of Assemblywoman Rozic on this issue,” Linzer said. “It is vital that consumers are able to access the care they need without being faced with excessive price increases in the midst of a pandemic.”

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