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Dangerous Toy Crackdown Coming As Congress Readies New Product Safety Laws

Dec 6, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

A toy safety crackdown could finally come at the end of the year, as both houses of the US Congress are poised to pass legislation aimed at keeping dangerous toys and other products away from consumers.   Congress has been working on toughening up product safety laws following a wave of recalls for toys and other products this year.

A string of recalls for toys and other products have shined a spotlight on what some say is an ineffective Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).  Some of the recalls have involved lead-tainted children's toys, dangerous magnetic play sets, cribs that became death traps, and dangerous baby seats. In many instances, the CPSC waited until several children were injured, and even killed, before it acted on reports that a product could be dangerous. Too often, the CPSC relies on the manufacturers of defective products to handle safety issues, and that rarely works out well for consumers.

If passed, new product safety legislation would more than double the budget of the CPSC by 2015, increase the agency's power to inspect and recall products and mandate additional testing for children's products.  But while the reforms have strong bipartisan support in Congress, the Bush Administration and Nancy Nord, the head of the CPSC, have been less than enthusiastic about the proposals.  Despite the fact that the CPSC budget has declined by 15 percent in the past three years, and that it employs only one full-time toy inspector, Nord said she does not believe the agency needs more money.  Nord's stance has been widely criticized, and at one point, some in Congress where demanding her resignation.

In a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill), one of the leading proponents of product safety reform, criticized the Bush Administration's opposition to the proposals.  Durbin wants the President to increase the CPSC budget by at least 10 percent in his next budget request. He also asked the president to improve the CPSC's Web site to better help consumers find recall information, to work with Congress to fill vacant seats on the commission and to halt all agency staff travel sponsored by companies the commission regulates.

Most of this year's toy recalls have involved Chinese made products.  In his speech, Durbin likened toy shopping to playing "Chinese roulette" as parents must worry that their child's holiday toys will contain lead paint, toxic glue and dangerous magnets. Durbin advised that this holiday season might be a "good year for books and movies".

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