Protection needed from faulty products
Sen. Daniel Inouye's Commerce Committee has approved a bill that would beef up the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Unable to cope with an avalanche of faulty products, the Consumer Product Safety Commission needs more resources and authority to crack down on remiss manufacturers. Nancy A. Nord, the commission's director, seems content with its regulatory colander but Congress is moving toward extending its authority and significantly increasing its budget and staff. Those changes are needed to protect consumers from faulty products.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., head of its consumer affairs subcommittee, are sponsors of legislation that would ban lead in toys, give state prosecutors the authority to enforce federal consumer laws, protect industry whistle-blowers and prosecute willful violators. The committee approved the measure unanimously, despite opposition by the Bush administration.
"This bill is about safety," Inouye said. "Harmful products continue to enter the stream of commerce, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths, tens of millions of injuries and hundreds of billions of dollars in losses to our country each year."
The problem gained much attention recently when Mattel recalled 436,000 toy cars covered with lead paint and produced in China. It followed the recall of Chinese-made jewelry, defective tires and toothpaste containing an ingredient used in antifreeze. Retailers in Honolulu's Chinatown reported customers shying away from products made in China.
The commission's staff has dwindled to 420, about half its size in the 1980s, leaving it with only one person to test toys. The Inouye-Pryor bill would double its budget over the next seven years, raise staffing by 20 percent and give the commission broad new powers. Opposition by Nord, former director of consumer affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, reflects her alignment with manufacturers.
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