- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2002

While public attention was focused on Gov. Mark Warner's austerity budget, the Virginia Senate pulled a fast one, voting 22-13 Thursday for a bill which would bar national gasoline chains operating in the Old Dominion from selling gasoline "below cost" (however state bureaucrats choose to define the term.) The legislation, S.B. 458, introduced by Republican Sen. Charles R. Hawkins, "prohibits a person who sells motor fuel at a retail outlet in Virginia from selling such fuel" below cost unless the sale is made "in good faith to meet competition" or was "an isolated and inadvertent sale." The senator was also generous enough to include exceptions for going out of business sales, and for grand opening sales "to introduce a new or remodeled business." Anyone caught violating the terms of the bill would be subject to a civil penalty of $5,000 for a first offense and $10,000 for each subsequent violation. The bill now moves on to the House of Delegates.
Mr. Hawkins, who represents a struggling rural district, claims that this statewide version of protectionism, which is being directed at large national and regional chains like Sheetz and Wawa, is necessary in order to keep embattled "mom and pop" stores in business. But he and his 21 colleagues who voted for the bill seem to overlook the reality that working-class folks, particularly those in his area of the state who have to drive 50 or more miles each way to work, will endure real economic hardship from paying the higher gas prices at the pump which will surely result from this legislation. Businesses like Sheetz and Wawa also employ people like cashiers, stockers and truck drivers who probably think their jobs are no less important than those of the small gas station owners who feel threatened by the workings of the marketplace.
Despite these realities, numerous Northern Virginia senators, among them Democrats Leslie L. Byrne, Janet D. Howell, Charles J. Colgan, Patricia S. Ticer, Mary Margaret Whipple and Linda T. Puller supported this objectionable measure. (Sen. Richard L. Saslaw did not vote.) Consumers owe a debt of thanks to Sen. Warren E. Barry, who opposed the Hawkins bill, and to Sen. John C. Watkins, from suburban Richmond, who fought hard against the measure on the Senate floor.

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