- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On June 22, Baby Sprouts Naturals went out of business. Congress killed it. Baby Sprouts Naturals is a small company making what it calls “natural, non-toxic baby products” such as “organic apparel,” toys and the like. None of the company’s products contains lead. But an anti-lead law Congress passed in 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), has snared even this leadless company in its trap.

Baby Sprouts Naturals is far from alone. Horror stories abound about small and large businesses, and, indeed, entire industries, closed or hobbled because of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. The law sets new, absurdly stringent limits on how much lead any children’s product can contain. It requires strict testing and labeling of all products intended for children and makes both manufacturers and retailers responsible for proving that such testing has taken place. It allows all 50 state attorneys general to take “enforcement” actions related to these issues and to hire outside counsel to do the legal work. It all but invites class-action lawsuits against children’s product suppliers.

Ballpoint pen manufacturers, makers of children’s minibikes, used bookstores, thrift shops, vending-machine companies, clothing manufacturers, handmade toy outfits and all sorts of others are suffering because of various CPSIA provisions. Also hurt will be charities that resell donated products to raise money for social services. One result: The Salvation Army said that about 16,000 fewer people in substance-abuse rehabilitation programs will be served.

The law has caused “absolute chaos and disarray,” according to Quin D. Dodd, the former chief of staff of the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Even businesses presumably intended to be helped by the law, such as the all-wholesome Baby Sprouts Naturals, are now swatted down by Congress’ heavy hand.

CPSIA matters are reaching a head. Three new members of the bipartisan Consumer Products Safety Commission have been chosen since June 23. On Aug. 14, all children’s products will be required to start carrying permanent “tracking labels” with manufacturing details so extensive that CNNMoney.com reports the “rigidity and complexity” could force small businesses to be shuttered.

On July 9, Mr. Dodd sent a petition (on behalf of clients) to his former agency requesting that it approve one of three forms of product test that do not require destroying a finished product. Current testing requirements are expensive because products must be destroyed to determine whether they are safe.

The agency itself has an almost impossible task. While its new, five-member board ought to grant Mr. Dodd’s requests, along with requests to delay implementation of the requirement for tracking labels, the board itself can’t be expected to keep covering up for this awful law’s many defects.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman of California yesterday announced that a hearing on the CPSIA’s problems, which had been tentatively planned for next week, will be postponed. Congress should not sweep its own mistake under the rug. Chairman Waxman should reschedule the hearing, sooner rather than later, and use it as a first step in an expedited process to completely rework this destructive law.

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