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Hearing of the Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee - "Legislative hearing on the Discussion Draft of H.R. ___, a bill that would revise the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act"


Location: Washington, DC

The committee will come to order.

Good Morning. Today, we turn back to the subject of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, also known as CPSIA. In our first hearing of the year, we heard about the many problems associated with this law. Today, we will focus on a preliminary discussion draft, which offers a range of possible solutions.

One major area for reform relates to the regulation of children's products. In this area, we have the benefit of five unanimous recommendations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. We also have draft legislation from last year and other CPSC suggestions in response.

The discussion draft aims to reduce the regulatory burdens of the law without undercutting consumer protection. A fundamental premise is that the Commission can actually protect consumers far better when it is allowed to set priorities and regulate based on risk. Where possible, we should spare the Commission from having to make time-consuming, case-by-case determinations, and let it spend more time on bigger problems. This is especially true in our current budget climate, where we have to make the most of scarce agency resources.

We need to strike the right balance, and that is seldom easy. The discussion draft points to areas where we must decide important policy questions. I hope our witnesses today will help us to make wise choices by shedding light on these issues.

In section 1, for example, the draft leaves open the age for defining the term "children's product." At our last hearing, my friend and colleague Mr. Dingell, the Chairman emeritus of the full committee, reminded us that a lot of the problems with CPSIA originated in the Senate, but this is one that did not. The Senate-passed bill applied the lead content limits to products for children age 7 and under. That age would have kept the focus on children who are greater risk when it comes to lead, because very young children, according to the CPSC, are much more likely to put things in their mouth. The House set the top age at 12-years-old, because of the so-called "common toy box" concern. But 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. These include not only the well-known examples of ATV's, bicycles and books but also band instruments, scientific instruments and clothes for older children, among other things.

Another key area is third-party testing. Again, the discussion draft tries to strike an appropriate balance. It preserves third-party testing for lead paint, cribs, pacifiers, small parts, and children's metal jewelry -- all priorities that Congress explicitly set in CPSIA. For other standards, however, it gives the Commission discretion to decide what standards should require third-party
testing. And it gives the Commission new authority and flexibility to require testing for only some portions of a standard or only for certain classes of products. It also asks the Commission to make sure that the benefits of third-party testing justify the costs before making it mandatory.

Another major area of reform is the CPSC's public database, which just recently began to post complaints. The discussion draft addresses some of the more significant problems that were brought to light in our earlier hearing.

First, the draft spells out in greater detail who can submit reports of harm for the public portion of the database. Among consumers, only those who have suffered harm or a risk of harm -- as well as members of their family, legal representatives or any person authorized by the family -- could make public reports.

Second, the draft sets forth a process for improving product identification. The database cannot help consumers if they don't know which products have problems. The staff draft enlists manufacturers to help consumers provide better descriptions.

Third, the draft gives CPSC more options for solving claims of material inaccuracy. The fundamental premise here is that the database may do more harm than good if it misleads consumers based on inaccurate information.
Last, the draft would strengthen the Commission's authority to investigate complaints. While some consumers may benefit from the ability to see safety-related complaints, a lot more consumers will benefit if the Commission can investigate complaints more quickly.

Congress must move quickly, too, because the clock is ticking -- unless we act soon, the 100 ppm lead limit will take effect retroactively in August and once again millions of dollars worth of products will become illegal to sell, donate or export.

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