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Toymakers Would Get Relief Under Republican Plan

Makers of toys, bicycles and all-terrain vehicles are among companies that may get regulatory relief under a plan by House Republicans to rein in the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The legislation also would restrict who may post to a CPSC website that tracks complaints about consumer products ranging from cribs to kitchen appliances, according to a summary of the bill.

Four years after a lead scare involving Barbie accessories from Mattel Inc. and RC2 Corp.’s Thomas the Tank Engine trains, House Republicans are responding to business group complaints that a 2008 law to fix the problem went too far. Representative Mary Bono Mack, a California Republican, convened a House subcommittee hearing on the matter today.

“Legislation that bars the CPSC from making common-sense decisions about protecting the public has had the unintended effect of banning safe products while imposing needless, costly burdens on small businesses,” said Rick Locker, a lawyer who represents the Toy Industry Association and the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.

Toymakers would benefit if the CPSC were given more authority to grant exclusions from lead testing where it can establish there’s limited risk of exposure, Locker said. Small-scale hand crafters would benefit from such reduced requirements, he said.

ATVs, Bikes and Books

An array of manufacturers would get a break by redefining what constitutes a children’s product, and therefore subject to extra regulatory scrutiny by the CPSC. The current cut-off is ages 12 and younger. According to the proposal, that limit would be replaced “with a lower age to be determined.”

The broader children’s product definition ended up subjecting a broad range of products generally considered low-risk to expensive tests aimed at protecting young children, including ATVs, bikes, books, musical instruments and clothes for older children, Mack said.

“By pushing the age to 12, we ended up regulating a huge number of products that are never going to be mouthed or even handled by young children,” Mack said.

The motorcycle industry has said, and the CPSC has conceded, that the lead limits applied to youth-sized ATVs has led to children riding adult-sized ATVs.

Motorcycle makers including Honda Motor Co. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. would begin to get relief from one unintended consequence of the 2008 law -- the virtual end of sales of youth-sized ATVs, motorcycles and snowmobiles, said Paul Vitrano, general counsel of the Motorcycle Industry Council.

Public Awareness

The law “crippled key parts of our industry, costing manufacturing and dealership jobs across the country,” Vitrano said.

The CPSC’s website tracking consumer complaints was specifically authorized by the 2008 law. Lawmakers at the time wanted to make the public aware of potential safety issues more quickly.

The site’s implementation has been criticized by business groups including the Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers.

“The database should not be a platform for the submissions of manufacturers, trade associations, trial lawyers or consumer groups who are trying to make policy or regulatory points,” said Charles Samuels, general counsel of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.

Verify Claims

Republicans are proposing the agency only post items from people who are injured, members of their families or people authorized by them. The agency would have to do more to verify the claims.

The Republican plan goes beyond offering relief to a few industries caught up in regulatory overreach, said Representative Henry Waxman of California, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“I know it is possible to address these concerns without gutting the law,” Waxman said.

Consumer and medical experts told lawmakers in prepared remarks that there were good reasons to keep the 2008 law’s main provisions in place. The House bill is “a broad attack” that “narrows the scope of products covered,” said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety at the Consumer Federation of America.

“This moves back the clock on safety and puts children at risk,” Weintraub said.

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