Congress Responds to the Toy Safety ScareMarch 6, 2008 - by Donny Shaw
It’s been 18 years since Congress has adopted any significant consumer safety legislation, but after a series of incidents involving unsafe toys last year, the current Congress is taking action. The Senate on Thursday passed a bill to strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission and increase oversight of the commission’s inspections of imported toys. The vote was 79-13, with all Democrats voting in favor and 13 Republicans voting against.
- Funding: Authorize funding for seven years starting at $88.5 million in fiscal 2009 and increasing by 10 percent per year through 2015. For 2009 and 2010, an additional $40 million would be authorized to upgrade CPSC’s laboratories and $1 million to research the safety of nanotechnology in products;
- Quorum: Allow a two-member CPSC quorum to conduct official business for nine months. The commission currently lacks a required three-member quorum, so it cannot act on mandatory recalls. The bill would restore the commission to five members instead of three to minimize future quorum problems.
- Injunctive Relief: Allow state attorneys general to obtain injunctive relief on behalf of residents to enforce product safety laws.
- Criminal Penalties: Increase criminal penalties to five years in prison for those convicted of knowing, willful violations of product safety laws.
- Testing: Require third-party safety certification of children’s products. Mandate that toys be certified according to current toy safety standards developed by ASTM International, an independent standard-setting organization.
- Labeling: Require manufacturers to label children’s products with tracking information useful to consumers and retailers in identifying recalled products.
- Lead: Outlaw lead in all children’s products.
- Recalled Products: Make it unlawful for retailers to sell a recalled product.
- Rulemaking: Hasten the product safety rulemaking process by eliminating a mandatory “Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.”
Beyond this list, the bill also calls for the creation of a website for the public to post complaints about unsafe products and increases protections for whistleblowers who report violations of consumer product safety regulations.
Several of the Senate bills provisions are tougher on manufacturers than what was included in the bill as passed by the House. As the two versions go to conference committee to be reconciled, some Republicans — among them the 13 who voted against the bill — will try to make the final version look more like the House’s. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) has been the leading critic of the tougher Senate version; click here to see a leaked document outlining his talking points against the bill.