Maine Rep. Allen Cosponsors SAFE Consumer Product Act
Nathan Dimock plays with trucks made in the U.S.A. Photo by Ramona du Houx
By Darren Fishell
PORTLAND—Rep. Tom Allen announced his official cosponsorship of the Safety Assurance for Every (SAFE) Consumer Product Act (H.R. 3691) on Oct. 1 at ABC Toys. The legislation comes in response to the extraordinary number of lead-based toy recalls this year — doubling the number of lead-based toy recalls issued in any previous year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
"It’s a very important problem," Allen said. "Everybody wants to go out and buy presents for children and grandchildren, and the thought that the product might contain lead is terrifying."
The act would strengthen the CPSC’s ability to investigate, regulate, and enforce manufacturing standards as well as ban lead in children’s products, specify methods of disclosing recall information to the public, expand criminal penalties, and increase the resources of the CPSC.
"For too long the CPSC has not received the resources and personnel it needs to enforce the laws on the books," Allen said.
According to Allen’s staff assistant, Sarah Baldwin, a CPSC official recently testified that the commission should have approximately 500 more staff members to adequately complete all of its regulatory tasks.
The act would provide additional funds for the CPSC beginning with $75.6 million for the 2008 fiscal year, increasing annually by $12.35 million to provide $125 million by the 2012 fiscal year.
The act would also allow the CPSC to continue regulatory activities permanently. From January to August of this year, the CPSC was unable to issue any new regulations because the commission had only two of three commissioners required to reach a quorum. The problem was addressed in August by Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor in a one-sentence provision, approved as part of a homeland security bill that allows two commissioners to comprise a quorum until January of 2008. The act would address this stalemate permanently by creating a process for returning full regulatory authority to the commission in the absence of a quorum.
Rep. Allen discusses consumer protection efforts with Jane Letson, owner of ABC toys in Portlandphoto:Darren Fishell
Although the CPSC was unable to issue new regulations for most of this year, Baldwin said that there is no definite correlation between that inability and this year’s increase in recalls comparedwith previous years.
Along with providing more resources and expanding administrative authority, the act will expedite the recall process, expand consumer notification and registration, and allow for more stringent civil and criminal penalties for violators.
Currently, the CPSC is required to conduct a formal hearing concerning products that pose potential risks. The act would allow the CPSC to issue orders to cease distribution, provide notice to customers, and recall products immediately upon recognition of a recall need with formal hearings to be conducted shortly after.
"For too long [the CPSC] has lacked the authority it truly needs to screen and regulate toys," Allen said, "especially those flooding American markets from China and other countries where consumer protections are inadequate."
Lower standards for imported products, especially from China, have been targeted as a central cause of the increased recalls. However, the U.S.-based toy manufacturer Mattel, which is involved in many of this year’s recalls, recently delivered a formal apology to China over the recall of more than 21 million Chinese-made products this summer. Mattel’s executive vice-president for worldwide operations, Thomas A. Debrowski, said that "the vast majority of those products that were recalled were the result of a flaw in Mattel’s design, not through a manufacturing flaw in China’s manufacturers," according to an Associated Press report.
The act would also expedite the processing of criminal penalties by eliminating a requirement that the CPSC issue a notice of noncompliance to individuals, officers, or agents engaged in prohibited actions. The current limit on civil penalties of $1.825 million would be eliminated, granting the CPSC greater authority to factor in specific conditions of a violation when levying penalties.
"The CPSC doesn’t have the regulatory muscle it needs to require manufacturers and importers to comply," Allen said.
From the consumer end, the act will require toy manufacturers to provide registration cards with all products subject to a consumer product safety standard. Product registration will provide consumers the opportunity to receive immediate notifications of recalls and pertinent product information through a national database managed by the CPSC.
"For too long," Allen said, "Congress has failed to hold either the regulators or the regulated accountable for the safety of the products we purchase for our kids."
A detailed outline of the SAFE Consumer Product Act can be found online through a Sept. 28 news link at http://www.house.gov/delauro.