February 8, 2008 / 12:23 AM / 11 years ago

Senate nears vote on product safety overhaul

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate may vote as soon as next week on a bill to reform product safety regulation after months of recalls of shoddy goods, many of them toys made in China, said a key lawmaker and Senate aides on Thursday.

A factory worker checks a bottle of fruit juice at a production line in a plant of Beijing Huiyuan Beverage & Fruit Group Corporation in Beijing December 11, 2007. The U.S. Senate may vote as soon as next week on a bill to reform product safety regulation after months of recalls of shoddy goods, many of them toys made in China, said a key lawmaker and Senate aides on Thursday. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

“We hope that (the Senate bill) will be moving as early as next week, but we’re not sure,” said Michigan Democratic Rep. John Dingell in a Reuters Regulation Summit interview.

Two Democratic aides in the Senate said later a vote next week is possible and senators are negotiating over a final version of legislation, with a few sticking points remaining.

Dingell chairs the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee. He steered a House version of product safety reform to floor passage in December by a 407-0 vote.

He declined to speculate on the prospects for a House- Senate compromise, assuming Senate passage of a bill.

“So far we have had great difficulty in having conferences with the Senate ... How that would come about, I have no way of knowing,” said Dingell, a member of Congress since 1955.

The House’s version of product safety reform would slash lead content in toys and boost funding for the beleaguered Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Product safety grabbed Congress’ attention last year amid scores of recalls of products by Mattel Inc, RC2 Corp and other companies due to excessive lead content.

The ensuing uproar led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a few other lawmakers to call for the ouster of CPSC Acting Chairman Nancy Nord. But she refused to quit.

Nord is one of only two commissioners now serving on the five-seat CPSC, which in recent days lost its power to make some major decisions when a six-month waiver expired that had allowed it to function without a quorum of commissioners.

“We included provisions (in the bill) requiring them to move toward a quorum. But until we can change that legislatively or move the president to address the quorum question, there’s not much we can do,” Dingell said.

The CPSC was set up in the 1970s to regulate hazards in about 15,000 different consumer products. The House bill would restore the CPSC to its full complement of five commissioners.

It would force a gradual reduction of lead content in children’s products, require manufacturers to include tracking labels on products to speed recalls of toys and mandate independent safety testing of toys by CPSC-accredited labs.

The bill would steadily increase the CPSC’s budget and raise penalties for failing to cooperate with the CPSC to $10 million from the current cap of less than $2 million.

The Senate’s bill is largely similar and also addresses the quorum problem. Provisions still being debated include ones to raise maximum CPSC penalties to $100 million, give state attorneys general power in civil fines and require faster disclosure of product safety problems, an aide said.

Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Andre Grenon

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