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U.S. Senate backs product safety overhaul

 
 
The vote could mean a major boost in funding for the product safety commission and harsher penalties for companies that make hazardous products. A less expansive House bill, which had industry support
By Noam N. Levey, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 7, 2008
WASHINGTON -- Moving to reverse decades of limited federal oversight, the Senate voted Thursday to make sweeping changes to the government's system of regulating toys, appliances and thousands of other household products.

The 79-13 vote could lead to a major expansion of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and stiffer penalties for companies that manufacture or distribute hazardous products.

And it may mean broad new public access to information about potentially dangerous products before they are recalled.

"This bill is the most significant product safety reform measure in recent history," said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety at the Consumer Federation of America.

"Americans have been waiting for this solution to our broken product safety system."

Manufacturers and retailers last year recalled more than 400 products, including millions of Chinese-made toys that contained lead paint, dangerous magnets or other hazards.

The recalls sparked an intense effort on Capitol Hill to strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has long had fewer investigative and enforcement tools than other federal regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Senate Democrats worked for months to build GOP support for increased federal oversight in the face of stiff industry resistance to new regulations.

The bill won the support of 33 Republicans, the two independents and 44 Democrats, including California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

Thirteen GOP lawmakers voted against the bill, which some called a gift to trial attorneys.

"Lawsuits as far as the eye can see," predicted Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.).

Presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) missed the vote.

The vote sets the stage for potentially difficult talks as Senate leaders work with their House counterparts to reconcile the differences between the bills approved by the two chambers.

The House bill -- passed unanimously in December with the blessing of influential industry groups -- is less expansive than the Senate legislation.

Thursday's vote also could set up a confrontation with the White House, which has expressed strong opposition to several key provisions of the Senate bill.

The Bush administration, which tried unsuccessfully last year to put an executive from the National Assn. of Manufacturers at the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, presided over a nearly 15% cut in agency staff between 2001 and 2007.

The legislation approved Thursday could dramatically reverse that.

The bill authorizes a phased $60-million increase in funding for the agency to boost its budget to $142 million by 2015, which, adjusted for inflation, would put the agency close to where it was in its heyday in the late 1970s.

The Senate bill would also:

* Create an Internet database where consumers could post and search for complaints about potentially dangerous products.

For safe products without harmful chemicals
 

 

  

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