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Item-pricing bill advances to Suffolk legislature

The Suffolk Legislature's Seniors and Consumer Protection Committee

The Suffolk Legislature's Seniors and Consumer Protection Committee voted 3-2 on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, in favor of a bill which would require retail stores in the county to individually price almost every product on their shelves. This was Costello's Ace Hardware in Farmingdale in 2016. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A Suffolk County Legislature committee approved a bill proposed by County Executive Steve Bellone that would expand the scope of a law that requires retailers to individually price items on their shelves.

The County Legislature’s Seniors and Consumer Protection Committee voted 3-2 on Monday in favor of the bill, which would require retail stores in the county to individually price almost every product on their shelves, from canned vegetables to cleaning products, except items like milk and eggs. The bill will be considered for a vote by the full legislature at the next general meeting on Feb. 7.

The bill amends an item pricing law that has been on the books since 1985 that originally applied to supermarkets and drugstores. The enforcement of the law was expanded by the county’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Consumer Affairs last year to include retailers such as hardware, paint, beauty, and pet and office supply stores.

The department collected $300,000 in additional revenue for 2016 through enforcement of the law, assistant administrative director James Andrews said at the meeting. The department expects to collect $500,000 more in 2017 compared to 2016.

“We began to look at laws that weren’t actively enforced and item pricing was one of them,” Frank Nardelli, commissioner of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Consumer Affairs, said at the meeting. “The new change seeks parity with laws on the book in Nassau and Westchester.”

The law does not apply to stores that are not part of a chain or network of affiliates, had less than $3 million in sales, or have no more than two full-time employees, excluding immediate family members. Those that fail to comply with the law face fines of $50 to $1,000.

Retailers can sign up for the county’s voluntary waiver program, which would allow them to opt out of the pricing requirement. Under the program, stores can pay an annual waiver fee that ranges from $500 to $15,000, depending on the size of the store. Once the waiver is granted, a store must pass a pricing accuracy inspection, and provide a price check scanner to allow customers to confirm prices.

Under the proposed legislation, the county would have the ability to enforce the law at stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Best Buy and Kohl’s, which aren’t currently under its scope, Andrews said.

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip) criticized the proposed law at the hearing, saying it “allows the department to go further into the pocket of business people to try to get them to pay us to get out of having to individually price every item in their stores.” Additional costs will simply be passed on to consumers, he said.

Department officials argued that the proposed law is about expanding consumer protection.

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