Tuesday, June 16, 2009

CPSIA - Op-Ed in The State (South Carolina)

My friend and associate, Carolyn Voisin, President of Roylco, Inc. of Anderson, South Carolina, wrote the following Op-Ed which appeared in The State, a prominent South Carolina newspaper. In this Op-Ed, Ms. Voisin describes the path forward for Inez Tenenbaum as new Chairman of the CPSC.

The State
June 16, 2009

Voisin: Tenenbaum needs to lead on product safety law

By CAROLYN VOISIN - Guest Columnist

S.C. businesses serving the children’s market — and thousands of similar small businesses across the country — are eagerly awaiting Inez Moore Tenenbaum’s confirmation hearing and Senate approval as the new chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, hoping that she will act decisively to fix the well-known problems with the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. The children’s product industry, already suffering from an historic economic downturn, has been hurt by the over-reaching provisions of this new law, and needs Ms. Tenenbaum’s leadership to stop the damage.

I should know. Our family business makes educational products for schools. Although our company has a sterling safety record over more than 40 years of manufacturing — 13 of them in South Carolina — we now face an uncertain future with high costs from unnecessary testing and tracking labels that do nothing to improve product safety, and from exposure to new kinds of liability. This law will cost jobs in our community.

The law was passed by Congress last year in anger over several high-profile recalls of toys because of lead paint. Since the law’s passage, severe unintended consequences have become evident due to its overly broad definition of children’s products, its unrealistic deadlines and its ban on the sale of existing inventory. Congress and the Consumer Product Safety Commission have pointed fingers at each other over these problems. Congress blamed former acting Safety Commission Chairman Nancy Nord, a Republican, for refusing to use the agency’s discretion in interpreting the law. Ms. Nord and her staff responded by noting the law’s unrealistic deadlines and inflexible standards that tied the hands of the agency.

Commissioner Nord and her Democratic counterpart Commissioner Thomas Moore both agree that, ironically, the law takes away the agency’s ability to act based on its assessment of risk, and have voted together on almost every issue related to the law. The appointment of Ms. Tenenbaum provides the opportunity to focus new efforts on fixing the law. Ms. Tenenbaum needs to persuade Congress to restore the agency’s ability to make its decisions based on risk of injury.

Under Ms. Tenenbaum’s leadership, implementation of the law should follow a new commonsense path. For example, children absorb more lead by eating snacks or drinking tap water than this law would allow them to be exposed to from such products as books, pens, bicycles, ATVs and many educational toys. Those products should be exempted from the law. The law currently does not permit the commission to take this position.

The next crisis caused by this law will stem from the new tracking-label requirement. Intended to facilitate more effective recalls, this requirement instead is creating chaos in the marketplace. The commission hasn’t stayed or issued rules for implementing tracking labels even though the requirement takes effect on Aug. 14. Companies such as ours are now forced to guess about their new legal requirements. The burdens on small businesses are terrible. My company may have to change labels hundreds of times a week in our two factories. The investment necessary to handle this new rule alone is crippling. Ms. Tenenbaum should work to delay the tracking-label requirements until regulations can be developed that recognize a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

Since Ms. Tenenbaum is an educator, I am optimistic that she will take strong action to assure that a healthy market for educational materials remains available to serve our schools and children. Sadly, many important educational products are being eliminated from the marketplace because of high legal compliance costs and fear. One school has stopped using rocks for the study of Earth Science and instead will teach using a poster — all because of doubts over this law. Other companies have stopped selling electricity kits and microscope light bulbs — not for safety reasons but solely because of the impossibility of legal compliance with the law. It is heart-breaking to see this damage inflicted on our schools under the banner of “improved safety.” We need Ms. Tenenbaum’s urgent attention to the interests of our nation’s pre-school, elementary and middle school children before this law takes away their right to learn.

Ms. Tenenbaum will do a great service to the country if she makes it a priority to fix the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. She can protect consumers and save thousands of jobs by taking a commonsense approach and restoring rationality to children’s product safety.

Ms. Voisin is president of Roylco, a manufacturer of children’s educational products based in Anderson.

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