By ANJU KAUR, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON (November 25, 2007) - Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen says it's time to stop playing around with toy recalls and make companies take responsibility for the safety of their products.
Under two pending House bills, companies would be required to test and certify toys before they are put on the shelves, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission would have more power to hold them accountable. CPSC's budget also would get a boost.
"Congress can give consumers the best possible gift this Christmas by passing toy protection legislation," said Van Hollen, who is a co-sponsor on both bills. "Toy manufacturers are not afraid of the CPSC - not afraid of enforcement. It's (CPSC) a paper tiger without authority."
Van Hollen's remarks came at a news conference Tuesday with Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, which released its annual toy safety survey the same day.
No government agency tests toys before they are put on the shelf, Mierzwinski said. The CPSC only tests toys after a complaint is filed.
"(It) is a little agency with a big job it simply cannot do," Mierzwinski added.
The bills—the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act, H.R. 4040, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and the SAFE Consumer Product Act, H.R. 3691, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.—would require toy companies to pay for the pre-market testing and the CPSC would provide technical assistance regarding U.S. standards, said Julie Vallese, CPSC director of information and public affairs.
"The CPSC is in full support," she added.
Both bills would also reduce lead standards, increase penalties for toy companies and provide greater public disclosure of toy safety problems.
Although they differ in the extent of these provisions, the biggest difference is the Rush bill does not pre-empt state law, Van Hollen said. States could enact additional toy safety laws if necessary.
Van Hollen said the Rush bill would be strengthened by adopting parts of the DeLauro bill and adding whistleblower protections, when the full Energy and Commerce committee debates it after Thanksgiving.
"We are hoping to hold it before the Congress adjourns this year," said Jodi Seth, a committee spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
Meanwhile, millions of toys, including popular ones like Thomas the Tank Engine and Barbie, have been recalled this year.
"Despite improvements in toy regulations (thus far) and labeling requirements, these recalls show that parents should remain vigilant," the US PIRG report said. "Consumers looking for toys still face an industry full of safety loopholes. Once toys fall through, it is difficult to remove them from the market."
A Senate bill, called the CSPC Reform Act, S. 2045, was sponsored by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.