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Senate considers product safety laws

  The U.S. Senate recently adopted legislation, though watered down, that would improve product safety for American families.

     On March 7, the Senate adoped a bill that would improved product safety in the U.S.  It will go to conference committee where it is likely to be watered down further by conferees weighing the bill against a more modest U.S. House bill and the  White House's desire to do nothing.  No similar action has been taken in 20 years, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been reduce to a shadow of its previous size.  Through neglect and efforts to "starve the government beast" the CPSC now has a staff of only 400 (about1/2 the size of the agency in the 1980s).  Fifteen inspectors monitor all imports of consumer products (estimated currently at 614 billion dollars)

     The versions of reform passed by both houses would improve the funding of the CPSC at least marginally, and would also allow it to adopt regulations that would, for example, reduce the amount of lead in toys.  The Senate bill calls for additional reforms, including a national data base for complaints, so that consumers could better protect themselves.  The White House objects to all manner of provisions in the bills, including the inclusion of "whistleblower" protection for employees who report safety problems, and the assignment of an enforcement  role to state prosecutors.   Proponents of the legislation point to the fact that we now import a majority of consumer products and virtually ally childrens' toys; we cannot possibly inspect or regulate most of the foreign producers, and 29 million toys were recalled in 2007 alone:  and studies show that most recalls are effective to remove only a small percentage of the product from the market.

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