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Senate Vote Gives Product Safety a Push

Bigger Budget, Greater Authority for Consumer Product Safety Commission
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 6, 2008 -- The Senate voted Thursday to step up regulation of toys and household products and to increase the budget of the agency that polices them.

The bill nearly doubles the budget of the Consumer Product Safety Commission from $88 million next year to close to $160 million in 2015. It bans lead in all but trace amounts in children's toys, and it also gives the agency new authority to levy stiff fines against companies that balk at product recalls.

The CPSC tests and monitors everything from toys and cribs to electrical appliances. It has been blamed for lax oversight in the wake of several product recalls, including Thomas the Tank Engine toys and children's costume jewelry, both of which contained lead.

The bill also sets up an online database designed to let consumers see if products they've bought have been the subject of repeated safety concerns.

"It provides new safety safeguards that emphasize resources, accountability, disclosure, and testing -- from the factory floor to the store shelves," says Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), the bill's chief sponsor.

The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, 79-13. It had been opposed by manufacturing groups, who said it would raise the cost of products and potentially lead to job losses.

Recalls of toys and other consumer products occurred in the midst of several other large recalls; many of products were made in China. Pet food, toothpaste, and dozens of food items were all the source of recalls in the past year.

A day before Thursday's vote, CPSC officials announced they would step up inspector presence at ports handling large amounts of products from overseas. CPSC Commissioner Nancy Nord made the announcement at the Port of Long Beach, in California, where the bulk of imports from China enters the country.

Under Thursday's bill, state attorneys general could take action against companies in their states based on alleged violation of CPSC rules. That provision, along with the online database of consumer complaints, is opposed by the White House.

The Senate bill still has to be reconciled with a different House bill. It allows higher lead levels and does not include a consumer database.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) called the extra provisions in the Senate bill "politically motivated."

"The House passed a truly bipartisan bill last year and the Senate should have taken it up long ago," he said.

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