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CPSIA

Yes! Following an enormous outcry from cheese makers, commentators, and the general public, the agency beats a hasty retreat. Commentator/ Pepperdine lawprof Greg McNeil has the details at Forbes (and his earlier commentary on the legalities of the agency’s action is also informative). Earlier here.

In a classic bureaucratic move, the agency denied it had actually issued a new policy (technically true, if you accept the premise that a policy letter from its chief person in charge of cheese regulation is not the same as a formally adopted new policy) and left itself the discretion to adopt such a policy in future if it wishes (merely declaring itself open to persuasion that wood shelving might prove compatible with the FSMA).

McNeal:

This is also a lesson for people in other regulated industries. When government officials make pronouncements that don’t seem grounded in law or policy, and threaten your livelihood with an enforcement action, you must organize and fight back. While specialized industries may think that nobody cares, the fight over aged cheese proves that people’s voices can be heard…

There is a less optimistic version, however. It happens that a large number of editors, commentators, and others among the chattering classes are both personally interested in the availability of fine cheese and familiar enough with the process by which it is made to be un-cowed by claims of superior agency expertise. That might also be true of a few other issues here and there — cottage food sold at farmer’s markets, artisanal brewing practices — but it’s inevitably not going to be true of hundreds of other issues that arise under the new Food Safety Modernization Act. In a similar way, the outcry against CPSIA, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, rose to a politically effective level only on a selected few issues (publishers and libraries got a fix so that older children’s books would not have to be trashed; youth motorsports eventually obtained an exemption, and so forth) but large numbers of smaller children’s products and specialties whose makers had less of a political voice simply disappeared.

More: Andrew Coulson, Cato, and on the trade aspects, K. William Watson; Chuck Ross, Daily Caller (quoting me at length for which thanks). On the FDA’s new statement: “Typical bureaucratic doublespeak that seems meant to maximize uncertainty for the regulated community” [Eric Bott of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce] “This was the worst possible outcome. It reinforces elites’ view that regulators are reasonable and wise and will fix mistakes.” [@random_eddie] “Pay no attention to the Leviathan behind the cheesecloth” [Scott Lincicome, in an exchange after a writer at Slate observed that "Libertarians aren't the only ones" who might want to keep board-aged cheese legal] (Vox, Reason, Carly Ledbetter/HuffPo; & welcome Instapundit, Alexander Cohen/Atlas Society, Q and O readers)

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Will you be in Washington, D.C. Wednesday, February 5? I’m delighted to announce that Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids fame, whose work I regularly link in this space, will be speaking at the Cato Institute at lunchtime. I’ll be offering comments as well as moderating, and it’s free and open to the public. Register here. The event description:

Our children are in constant danger from — to quote Lenore Skenazy’s list — “kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.” Or so a small army of experts and government policymakers keep insisting. School authorities punish kids for hugging a friend, pointing a finger as a pretend gun, or starting a game of tag on the playground. Congress bans starter bikes on the chance that some 12-year-old might chew on a brass valve. Police arrest parents for leaving a sleepy kid alone in the back seat of a car for a few minutes. Yet overprotectiveness creates perils of its own. It robs kids not only of fun and sociability but of the joy of learning independence and adult skills, whether it be walking a city street by themselves or using a knife to cut their own sandwich. No one has written more provocatively about these issues than Lenore Skenazy, a journalist with the former New York Sun who now contributes frequently to the Wall Street Journal and runs the popular Free-Range Kids website where she promotes ideas like “Take Your Kids to the Park and Leave Them There Day.” Her hilarious and entertaining talks have charmed audiences from Microsoft headquarters to the Sydney Opera House. Please join her and Cato’s Walter Olson for a discussion of helicopter parenting and its unfortunate policy cousin, helicopter governance.

And don’t forget that next Wednesday I’ll be moderating a luncheon talk at Cato by another favorite author, Virginia Postrel, with powerhouse commenters Tyler Cowen and Sam Tanenhaus. Register here.

January 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 22, 2014

  • Reminder: federal panel finally mulling reform of ultra-costly pretrial discovery, now’s the time to send comments [Kyl/WSJ, earlier]
  • Michigan woman convicted of false rape claim had sent man to prison for 10 years in earlier case [ABA Journal]
  • Strickland, key figure in disastrous CPSIA law and then chief at NHTSA, lands at BigLaw’s Venable [AutoNews, Detroit News]
  • A religious accommodation too far? Devout student at secular university asks not to work with female classmates [York U., Ontario; CBC via @amyalkon, also related on Nova Scotia aikido class] Inviting shop clerks to set up “no booze/pork” check lines is a sensitivity too far [Andrew Stuttaford, Secular Right]
  • “Top 2013 Jury Awards: Price-Fixing, Nursing Home Liability, Defamation” [Margaret Cronin Fisk, Bloomberg] Top legal ethics stories of 2013 [Legal Ethics Forum and followup on R v Farooqi & Ors]
  • Liberate history-talk: “Another Battle Against Silly Tour-Guide Regulations” [Ilya Shapiro] Handing out $1,000 fines in Charleston, S.C. [Brian Doherty]
  • “The line between Salon and Granma is getting awfully blurry” [@dandrezner; more about DoNotLink.com]

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December 3 roundup

by Walter Olson on December 3, 2013

  • The law blog that almost brought down ObamaCare [Trevor Burrus, Cato] “In Government, Nothing Succeeds Like Failure,” public policies being hard to adjust when they go astray [Peter Schuck, HuffPo]
  • Sexual harassment claim: “Attorneys awarded more than 600 times damages in Calif. case” [Legal NewsLine]
  • KlearGear, of non-disparagement fame, reaps the online whirlwind [Popehat, Public Citizen, Volokh, earlier]
  • “What if American Exceptionalism, properly understood, really boils down to associational liberty?” [Richard Reinsch, Liberty Law] Do religious-liberty carve-outs in same-sex marriage laws go too far, not far enough, or neither? [Dale Carpenter et al. vs. Richard Garnett et al.]
  • What jury didn’t hear in qui tam award against pipemaker JM Eagle [Daniel Fisher, more]
  • Majority of appointed commissioners on Consumer Product Safety Commission is is no hurry to reduce inordinate CPSIA testing burdens, per retiring commissioner Nancy Nord (more);
  • Woman who claims to own sun says she prevailed in lawsuit brought by man who claims to own universe [Lowering the Bar]

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Environmental roundup

by Walter Olson on October 11, 2013

March 7 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 7, 2013

December 26 roundup

by Walter Olson on December 26, 2012

  • L.A. County assessor, though in jail, will keep drawing $197K salary plus raise [LAT]
  • IRS lowers the regulatory boom on tax preparers [Institute for Justice video, auto-plays]
  • On Wal-Mart Mexico bribery, NYT has a bit of a blind eye of its own [Stoll; earlier here, here, etc.]
  • Another painful CPSIA regulation: CPSC on testing “representative samples” [Nancy Nord]
  • “Popcorn lung” couple “won a $20 million judgment. Now, they’re broke.” [ABC]
  • From Todd Zywicki: Libertarianism, Law and Economics, and the Common Law [SSRN via Bainbridge]
  • If the courts disapprove of throttling internet speeds, what do they think of throttling class action claims redemption rates? [Ted Frank]
  • Oh, American Academy of Pediatrics, why are you so consistently wrong? On videogames, on food-ad bans, on guns, CPSIA
  • New book by Annette Fuentes, Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse [John Harris, Guardian]
  • There are genuine problems with some countries’ international adoption practices, but should UNICEF really be pushing toward a “leave the kids in orphanages” alternative? [Nick Gillespie on Reason documentary to be released tomorrow]
  • At expense of both federalism and religious accommodation, bill entitled “Every Child Deserves a Family Act” (ECDFA) would impose anti-bias rules on state adoption and foster care programs [Washington Blade]
  • Cash-for-kids Pennsylvania judge: “Former Luzerne judge Conahan sentenced to 17.5 years” [Times-Tribune, our earlier coverage]
  • “Met a guy who works at my old summer camp. Bunks still do raids on other bunks, but their counselors have to file raid forms first. How sad.” [@adamlisberg]
  • Sex offender registry horror story #14,283 [Skenazy]
  • “Safety rules rob pupils of hands-on science, say MPs” [Independent, U.K.]
  • Gee, who could’ve predicted that? NJ’s aggressive “anti-bullying” law leads to new problems [NYT, Greenfield, PoL, NJLRA] Rapid growth in bullying law assisted by push from Obama administration [WSJ Law Blog, Kenneth Marcus/Federalist Society, Bader]

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September 12 roundup

by Walter Olson on September 12, 2011

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By a 3-2 party line vote, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has voted to lower already infinitesimal thresholds of lead permitted in children’s products to 100 parts per million. The main impact will not be on surface paints or other flakable/chewable hazards to the youngest users, but on “substrate” elements such as metal alloys employed in such objects as bicycle parts, school binders, and ballpoint pens, an even wider swath of which will be hard to sell or resell without breaking the law. [Bloomberg; commissioners Nord, Northup; Woldenberg, more and yet more]

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE from Walter Crane, The Baby’s Opera (1876), courtesy BabylonBaroque.

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Around the country today, CPSC regulations are forcing retailers to throw out new, unused baby cribs — estimates of the number range higher than 100,000 — that the federal government itself considers safe enough to be used in day cares. I explain the latest Nanny State snafu in a new post at Cato at Liberty.

More: Quin Hillyer, CFIF; Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason. And CPSC commissioner Anne Northup corrects a misimpression in some parts of the press:

The new standards ban drop-side cribs. But the standards also prohibit the sale, new or used, of all cribs – both drop-side and fixed-side – that are not tested to the new standards by a private laboratory. Because very few cribs that were not originally manufactured to the new standards will ever be tested, the new standards essentially ban all such cribs – drop-side and fixed side. As reported in today’s press, millions of drop-side cribs have been recalled. On the other hand, tens of millions of fixed side cribs manufactured to previous standards have never been recalled, never been found to be unsafe, and now also cannot be sold new or resold used.

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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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And one of the reasons for the title’s closure after 35 years might be surprising, at least to non-readers of this site. [Handmade Toy Alliance]

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A thrift store owner explains why. [Rick Woldenberg] More: Timothy Carney, Examiner.

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The New York Times editorial page continues to dismiss criticism of the testing burdens of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 on small manufacturers and retailers as “part of a standard antiregulation litany.” But on October 30, 2009 the paper itself ran a sadly belated but otherwise decently executed article PieManEthelEveretta by reporter Leslie Wayne from which a fair-minded reader would conclude that the small makers’ complaints about the law are only too well-grounded (“Burden of Safety Law Imperils Small Toymakers.”)

If one were to take a charitable view, one might commend the Times editorialists for at last deigning to concede that the law might usefully be “tweaked,” at least within a very narrow latitude. They finally acknowledge that there “might be a way to exempt products from testing if they very clearly do not pose a lead-related hazard,” without acknowledging that the great majority of products swept under the law’s coverage fall into exactly such a category. But they continue to insist that even older kids be denied access to products that could not pass BikeItalianPosterCPSIA’s lead testing, including whole categories of products like kids’ bicycles and ballpoint pens whose designs still cannot dispense with the (entirely harmless) use of brass and suchlike alloys. Only the repeated staying or postponed enforcement of many of the law’s requirements has spared the country a long list of similar absurdities — while the legal absurdities that the CPSC has not stayed or postponed have already wiped out makers and vendors of harmless products from coast to coast.

Even under the best of circumstances, the Times’s editorialists would find it hard to live down their cruel, ideologically blinkered track record on the CPSIA issue. But couldn’t they at least pretend to be following the coverage in their own paper? More: Handmade Toy Alliance. And Rick Woldenberg offers a critique of the the Times’s new, and anything but improved, news-side reporting.

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It’s endangered by CPSIA, since organizers have no easy way to know whether a recyclable pair of kids’ jeans might have lead-containing brass in its buttons or zipper and thus be unlawful to sell (though not in fact dangerous). [Nancy Nord]

P.S.: Demise of print publication of Mothering Magazine after 35 years attributed in part to CPSIA and other CPSC regulations that devastated many advertisers [Handmade Toy Alliance]

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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