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CPSIA and Congress

May 27 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 27, 2011

  • Prospects dicey at best for CPSIA reform as Waxman, Dems toe consumer-group line [Woldenberg, more, Nord, Northup] If AAP is going to posit 49,000 poisonings from lead in recalled jewelry, shouldn’t it try to document a couple of them? [Woldenberg] Credit at least to House Commerce Committee majority for trying to tackle mess with this law [Mangu-Ward, ShopFloor, AtC]
  • “Lawsuit claims Jay-Z’s ‘Big Pimpin’ violates Egyptian ‘moral rights'” [DBR]
  • My Cato Institute colleague Gene Healy reviews new Eric Posner/Adrian Vermeule book on executive power [AmCon]
  • Subpoena filed by class-action lawyer Stephen Tillery demands contributor list of Chicago-based think tank critical of litigation [Madison County Record] Judge quashes subpoena as chilling of First Amendment liberties [same]
  • Suits filed by its own officers, often those accused of misconduct, have cost LAPD $18 million since 2005 [L.A. Times via Dave Krueger, Agitator]
  • “Do Menthol Cigarettes Taste Too Good to Be Legal?” [Sullum, earlier]
  • “Motion Claims Buxom Woman with Opposing Counsel Is Intended as Jury Distraction” [ABA Journal] More: Ken at Popehat, Lowering The Bar, Above the Law.

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Reform efforts are finally afoot in the House of Representatives, at least two years after they should have started, but a three-member majority of the CPSC (two Obama appointees and a holdover) is defending the law on many though not all of its worst points. [Bloomberg, HuffPo] “This is by far the best bill we’ve seen to date,” declares the Handmade Toy Alliance. Tireless CPSIA critic Rick Woldenberg testified with other witnesses at a House Commerce hearing and contributes an op-ed to The Hill about the law’s irrationality. More coverage: Carter Wood/ShopFloor, Sean Wajert. And a memo by committee staff discussing some of the key issues is here (PDF).

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Speaker line-up via Rick Woldenberg; opening statements by Reps. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.); ABC News coverage; Republicans reportedly preparing legislation that would amend, but not repeal, the ill-conceived statute; a move to strip funding for the controversial product database.

A separate piece of legislation may address the law’s devastating effects on the sale of youth motorcycles, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles:

“The original legislation Congress passed was meant to keep kids safe from lead content in toys,” said Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), who comes from a state where smaller recreational vehicles are popular. “Ironically, the overreaching enforcement wound up putting kids at risk by forcing them to use larger more dangerous machines that are intended only for adults.”

Rehberg’s “Kids Just Want to Ride” Act, which he introduced last month, has 41 co-sponsors, including seven Democrats. A similar bill in the last Congress garnered 70 co-sponsors, including 24 Democrats.

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Jill Chuckas of the Handmade Toy Alliance testifies before the Senate about the Law That Stole Christmas.

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A 3-2 vote at the Consumer Product Safety Commission last week ensures that the federal government will put its imprimatur behind allegations about supposed hazards in consumer products — whether true or not. I explain in a new post at Cato at Liberty.

P.S. Kelly Young comments: “I wonder if they’d be willing to maintain a public database of complaints against federal employees?” More: Coyote (comparing relative sophistication of Amazon, TripAdvisor consumer ratings systems with primitive nature of CPSC’s); letter from Rep. Joe Barton, PDF; Washington Post; ACSH.

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KiteWoodcutA nonprofit in suburban Chicago each year encourages its woodworker members “to craft and donate wooden Christmas toys to less fortunate children.” After donating upwards of 700 toys a year in the past, it will have to discontinue the program in future since it can’t afford the third-party testing required under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, sponsored by area members of Congress Bobby Rush and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). “Woodworking hobby magazines have pegged prices for third-party testing as high as $30,000 for 80 items.” Testing is particularly impractical for items made from donated/recycled wood, since each donated wood source needs to be put through separate testing. Another triumph for CPSIA! [Jenette Sturges, Sun-Times/Beacon-News]

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE from John Bate’s 1635 book, The Mysteryes of Nature and Art, Wikimedia Commons.

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The Wall Street Journal had a report Tuesday on newly mobilized sentiment among businesspeople intent on challenging the rapid ongoing expansion of federal governance and regulation. It profiles Rick Woldenberg, well known to readers of this site as a tireless agitator against the insanities of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act AnimalsBall1c(CPSIA) of 2008. Woldenberg had been an Obama voter and basically apathetic about politics until the CPSIA debacle unfolded, putting at risk his medium-sized educational products company and many other makers and sellers of basically harmless products for kids. The indifference of the federal establishment to the resulting distress in the business community — and in particular the deaf ear turned by such lawmakers as Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) — propelled Woldenberg into legislative activism (AmendTheCPSIA.com) and then politics, where he has backed Joel Pollak in an unusually strong challenge to Rep. Schakowsky in her Chicago-area district.

On CPSIA’s tendency to ban rocks used for study in Earth Science classes, see our earlier post. More: ShopFloor.

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE from Elise Bake, Der Ball Der Tiere (“The Animals’ Ball”, German, 1891), courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

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You might be bitter too:

I called the lab, got the quote and did the math. CPSIA-mandated testing costs for my little product line was over $27,000 for just over $30,000 worth of product. I cannot express the horrible feeling I had when I realized that I had made a mistake that was going to cost my family all of our money. …

I blame every one of the Energy and Commerce legislative staffers.

— Jolie Fay, crafter, SkippingHippos.com, guest post, AmendTheCPSIA.com

SeeSawa

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE from Ethel Everett, illustrator, Nursery Rhymes (1900), courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

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Readers of this site will recall that as reports rolled in last year of the calamitous effects of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, the Congressional leadership, and in particular key lawmaker Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) steadfastly refused to hold hearings or in general acknowledge that the law was causing systematic ill effects of any sort. As resale outlets across the nation swept harmless winter coats from their shelves or stopped dealing in kids’ goods entirely; BadMrsGinger1bas librarians warned that whole collections of pre-1985 books would need to be either put through prohibitively expensive testing or simply discarded; as makers, importers and sellers of perfectly harmless apparel, school supplies, furniture, musical instruments and other children’s items puzzled over ruinously high testing costs and bans on common materials like brass; as smaller, craft-oriented producers began folding, leaving the market to be served by the largest mass-production toymakers and retailers (many of which had supported the legislation); as the kids’ motor vehicle industry, including makers and sellers of dirtbikes and mini-ATVs, found itself transformed overnight into outlaws; even as all this unfolded, Henry Waxman and his counterparts on the Senate side kept the lid clamped down tight on any Capitol Hill airing of such woes. Eventually Waxman held a hearing with exactly one (1) witness, Obama-appointed CPSC chairperson Inez Tenenbaum, who sought to put the best face on the law. (After a false start, a House small business committee lacking actual legislative jurisdiction was also allowed to hold a more varied hearing.)

In recent months, without of course admitting any error whatsoever, representatives of Waxman’s office have been quietly floating amendments intended to correct some of CPSIA’s most blatantly impractical elements. The fixes would be likely to help in some specific areas where opposition has been vocal and influential, BadMrsGinger2bsuch as children’s books and mini-vehicles, while affording much less relief, or none at all, to many others trying to cope with the law. At the same time, Waxman’s staff has been demanding that “business” (conceived as if it were some monolithic group) gratefully sign off on the fix as acceptable and perhaps even accept new provisions that would increase CPSIA burdens. While many affected groups are understandably eager to reach a deal, others, such as persistent critic and businessman-blogger Rick Woldenberg, are reluctant to sign off on obviously partial and inadequate fixes as if were going to solve the wider problems with the law.

The fixer amendment has gone through several iterations; its current draft is here (PDF), named the Consumer Product Safety Enhancement Act of 2010, or CPSEA (more background from the committee, PDF, via ShopFloor). Now, at long last, Waxman has agreed to hold a hearing tomorrow (to be chaired by his colleague Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill.). The witness list includes persons from Goodwill Industries, the National Association of Manufacturers, Handmade Toy Alliance, and the Motorcycle Industry Council — all of which groups have apparently agreed to support the legislation — as well as Rick Woldenberg of Learning Resources Inc., who continues as a critic, and Steve Levy of the American Apparel and Footwear Association. Of course the difference now, and the reason some of these groups at long last will get their chance to testify, is that they have agreed to testify at least nominally on Waxman’s and Rush’s side — perhaps in some cases while biting their tongues.

We’ll be reporting more in days to come. In the mean time, this would make a good occasion for news organizations to renew their attention to the public policy disaster that CPSIA has wrought.

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGES from Honor C. Appleton, The Bad Mrs. Ginger (Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1902), courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

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Congress vs. rhinestones

by Walter Olson on February 24, 2010

AliceDuchessbAmid increased chatter about finally getting some legislative fixes made to the horrendous CPSIA, the Democrats seem insistent that crystals and like embellishments must remain banned on children’s products, though (says Rick Woldenberg) they “have no history of causing lead poisoning.” Earlier here, here, here, etc. Related: Jennifer Taggart [belt buckle on Disney Princess pants]; Amend the CPSIA [hair bow maker left with thousands in unsalable inventory]

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Some views you probably won’t be hearing during today’s highly orchestrated Capitol Hill events [Ed Wallace, Business Week] Regarding that “declining quality at Toyota” meme ["The Truth About NHTSA Complaints," TTAC] Sudden runup in count of deaths “linked to” possible Toyota acceleration is from newly filed reports on old cases [Fumento/CEI] Commentary from Richard Epstein [Forbes.com via Damon Root, Reason "Hit and Run"] Former trial lawyer lobbyist David Strickland, now helping lead charge against Toyota as NHTSA administrator, was principal author of ghastly CPSIA law [Amend The CPSIA] Also: links to ongoing Point of Law coverage.

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New at Point of Law

by Walter Olson on February 20, 2010

Things you’re missing if you aren’t checking out my other site:

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The Motorcycle Industry Council feels momentum is now on its side in its effort to re-legalize youth motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, which flunk CPSIA’s ban on lead-containing alloys. [MotorcycleUSA.com] More background here and here.

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The full report is here (PDF); the commission’s Democratic and Republican members managed to reach consensus on enough points to allow for a bipartisan report. AnimalsBall1c Deserving of particularly close attention are the supplementary views (also PDF) by Commissioners Nancy Nord and Anne Northup, and Northup appends to her remarks many letters from those whose businesses are being ravaged needlessly by the law. The same two commissioners also blog on the subject.

As Nord observes, the full CPSC report:

* acknowledges that the agency needs additional flexibility to implement the lead provisions of the CPSIA, though it does not address how that flexibility should be crafted (since we could not reach agreement on that point);
* acknowledges that books probably were not intended to be regulated under the CPSIA and suggests that Congress may want to consider addressing this issue;
* recommends that the retroactive nature of the law be repealed as the lead limits move from 300ppm to 100ppm; and
* outlines the efforts the agency has made to date to assist small manufacturers and artisans in complying with the CPSIA and states our willingness to work with Congress to address the problems small manufacturers continue to face.

The Handmade Toy Alliance has published some reactions from Rob Wilson as well as its own recommended changes to the law, as has Rick Woldenberg.

Alas, the commission was not exactly a model of transparency in its deliberations: its majority turned down requests from Commissioners Nord and Northup for it to open its debate to the public.

P.S. And more from Rick Woldenberg, Commissioner Anne Northup, and Carter Wood/ShopFloor.

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In what one hopes is a break from the “no legislative fix needed” united front put forward by the law’s advocates, Consumer Product Safety Commission chair Inez Tenenbaum has acknowledged in a letter to Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif) that at least some legislative action establishing exceptions to the law’s sweeping bans might be helpful. Product Safety Letter has the story. Relatedly:

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGES from Elise Bake, Der Ball Der Tiere (“The Animals’ Ball”, German, 1891), courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

And per this L.A. Times account, business — at least business with an organized Washington, D.C. presence — is on board, just as it was when CPSIA passed. So what could go wrong?

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CPSIA chronicles, September 20

by Walter Olson on September 20, 2009

  • Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.) doesn’t think Rep. Waxman’s pretend hearing Sept. 10 was enough, and writes a letter to Reps. Waxman and Rush (PDF courtesy Motorcycle Industry Council) explaining why a real hearing is needed (including as an addendum my WSJ piece from last Monday).
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  • Speaking of CPSIA author Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), he’s praised the new rhinestone ban [Woldenberg]
  • At the Wall Street Journal, a letter to the editor regarding my op-ed of last week generally agrees with its thrust but claims that I “[err] when assigning blame to consumer groups” among others for the enactment. I find this charge baffling, since groups like Public Citizen, PIRG and the Consumer Federation of America 1) were routinely cited in the press during the bill’s run-up to enactment as key advocates of its more extreme provisions, 2) have loudly claimed credit for enacting those provisions and the overall bill ever since, 3) have been routinely cited this year in the press as key opponents of any effort to revisit the law in Congress. Why strive to excuse them from a responsibility that they gladly shoulder? Carter Wood at ShopFloor also notes that labor unions unwisely cheered on their purported consumer-group allies, a stance one hopes they are rethinking in light of the statute’s actual effects on American employers and jobs.
  • BoardGameGeek had a discussion of the law again this summer, mostly focusing on the tracking label rules and the burden they pose to makers of new games, but also noting the thrift/reseller effects (earlier). Meanwhile, Handmade Toy Alliance activist Dan Marshall notes on Twitter, “Just spoke with guy who invented a board game about dinosaurs. He’s paying $2400 to get it tested 4 #CPSIA and is mad as hell about Mattel.”
  • So let’s all panic now: NPR reports minute amounts of lead alloy in a Disney-branded zipper.
  • Before CPSIA came along, Illinois lawmakers enacted their own lead law which, stunt-like, sets an even lower permissible lead level often flunked by common substances such as ordinary garden dirt, according to Rick Woldenberg (earlier on dirt, and related on rocks). More: Wacky Hermit.
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PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGES from Ethel Everett, illustrator, Nursery Rhymes (1900), courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

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I’ve got an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal on CPSIA (the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) and Congress’s unwillingness to reform it despite its calamitous and unnecessary impacts on the children’s product business, especially its smaller participants. If you’re new to this site, here are some pointers for further reading about the issues raised in the piece:
Dangerous playthings! Must ban!

Readers who use Twitter may also want to follow this stream, which includes regular updates from my @overlawyered and @walterolson accounts as well as from many other persons who follow the law.

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGES from Ethel Everett, illustrator, Nursery Rhymes (1900), courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org. Lawmakers behaving like potted plants

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