AUSTIN (KXAN) — At a time when inspectors are seeing a surge in credit card skimmers at gas pumps across the state, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller says a new state law will allow you to get cheated more often. Supporters of the new law say his fears are overblown.
Part of a Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) inspector’s job is to make sure gas pumps don’t have skimmers that steal your identity. This legislative session, lawmakers passed House Bill 2174 which will begin to outsource pump inspectors to private companies beginning in September.
The new law doesn’t actually let state inspectors respond until after three complaints, regardless if the complaints are for skimmers or bad gas. It also caps the fine the department can levee at $500.
“I don’t tolerate horse thieves, cattle rustlers, or cheats and we are not going to start just because this bill is put in place,” said Miller.
This law won’t just impact inspections for skimmers, but for the day-to-day operation at gas pumps. The TDA is also tasked to inspect for dirty fuel and to calibrate gas pumps, ensuring you get what you pay for.
“It [the gas station] has to cheat at least three people and they have to turn it in before we can fine them, which is just ludicrous in my view. That is not good consumer protection,” said Miller.
“As far as the complaint system. I’ll go back to the 95 percent compliance rate that the industry has by TDA’s own reports,” said Paul Hardin with the Texas food and Fuel Association.
But Miller’s concerns didn’t sway lawmakers. The bill passed the Senate 31-0. It passed the House 134 to 11.
“HB 2174 provides the department a tool to stretch limited resources to certify more pumps and gas stations on an annual basis. We appreciated working with Commissioner Miller during the session to make the bill better,” House author, Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, said.
Miller tried to convince Gov. Greg Abbott to veto the bill, but he signed it into law.
Hardin says the law was passed before this recent onslaught of skimmers. He thinks the bill is a net positive by requiring more overall inspections and it’ll make the state money.
“The pumps weren’t inspected but every eight years potentially. Now they’ll be inspected every two years. That adds up an immense amount of consumer protection,” said Hardin.
He says this will move fuel pumps to the successful way the state already regulates elevators. The TDA will continue to license the private inspectors.
“We’re trying to save taxpayers money, have a better use of the dollars that are spent consumer protection,” explained Hardin.
Under the new law, gas stations will pay for the contractors who will do the fuel pump inspections. A calibration visit by a licensed service technician costs an average of $560 per store. According to the Texas Food and Fuel Association, if 14,000 stores had to get inspections every other year, the state would make $3.9 million every year.
In Miller’s opinion, it equates to having the “fox guard the henhouse.”
Miller says his employees will now inspect the contractors. When KXAN asked if that’s an efficient use of resources, he says it’s his duty to protect the consumer against fraud.
“We see no reason for TDA to come behind the person doing the inspecting, who’s licensed by TDA, and doing an inspection of the inspector,” said Hardin.
This isn’t the first time Miller has tangled with industries he regulates. In 2015 he believed consumers were being cheated and wanted to hire more inspectors to ensure compliance. To pay for them he raised fees on several industries. The Food and Fuel Association says fees for gas dispensers will increase anywhere from 66-600 percent depending on the nozzle. With this law, their supporters say the TDA will no longer need the fees to pay for inspectors that have been outsourced.