Sunday, September 20, 2009

CPSIA - Too Much of a Good Thing? Nah!

The CPSC's notorious Resale Roundup was greeted with more "acclaim" by Fox News this week. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Be sure to check out the article ("New Government Policy Imposes Strict Standards on Garage Sales Nationwide"), the slideshow ("Ridiculous Recalls?") and the video. Each is worth your time.

For those who are not familiar with this novel new program, the CPSC is fanning out to save you from "evil" resellers who might be foisting off recalled items on you. This includes spying on local garage sales, visiting your local resale shop and poking around on eBay and The CPSC has apparently given up on education and individual responsibility as a way to protect against harm - instead, they are redoubling their effort to be the Cop On The Beat, like it or not. In this case, they have chosen to make up a fake crisis, the resale of recalled items, to justify becoming an active protector of the public safety.

To get the flavor of this article and the basic problem, here are a few quotes:

1. "The [strict CPSIA] standards were originally interpreted to apply only to new products, but now the CPSC says they apply to used items as well. 'Those who resell recalled children's products are not only breaking the law, they are putting children's lives at risk,' said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. 'Resale stores should make safety their business and check for recalled products and hazards to children.'"

RW - Note that Ms. Tenenbaum justifies this massive incursion into people's lives by the claim that recalled items "[put] children's lives at risk". While I concede SOME recalled items might in fact endanger children's lives, please check out the slideshow for perspective on the mortal danger posed by many recalled items. Hmmm. A little hyperbole, perhaps? There are ways to deal with the limited problem of certain dangerous items circulating without resorting to the claim that there's a Five Alarm Fire burning.

2. "CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson says the fines are intended for large companies with serious infractions. 'CPSC is an agency that has used its penalty powers over its 30-year history against companies,' Wolfson told 'CPSC is not seeking to pursue penalties against individuals hosting a garage sale or yard sale, we are encouraging them to take the right steps to not resell recalled products.' But FOX News Legal Analyst Bob Massi says the law makes no distinction for families and small resellers. . . . Don Mays, senior director of product safety planning at the publisher of Consumer Reports, says the hefty penalties are necessary to have an impact. 'The former civil penalty limit of $1.87 million was too small to be an effective deterrent to large companies who flagrantly violated the law,' Mays told 'Mattel and its subsidiary Fisher-Price, for example, recently paid a $2.3 million penalty for importing about 2 million toys that violated the CPSC 30-year-old lead paint ban — that amounts to just over one dollar per toy.'"

RW - CPSC says they won't hit you with big penalties, but the law permits it. The Fox video shows that people are afraid. It's hard to trust a regulatory agency out looking for "bad guys" in your garage with a BIG stick and no checks, balances or controls on how it will use it. Yes, they claim to be all sweetness and light - but what happens if they change their minds? The consumer groups are all for hefty fines, as Mr. Mays confirms, and nowadays, they seem to be passing notes to Congress and to the CPSC. So, is it any surprise that many people are quite alarmed?

Side note: Don't worry, the CPSC says they won't be coming into your home (yet): "Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the agency, said it wouldn't be dispatching bureaucratic storm troopers into private homes to see whether people were selling recalled products from their garages, yards or churches. 'We're not looking to come across as being heavy-handed,' he said. 'We want to make sure that everybody knows what the rules of engagement are to help spur greater compliance, so that enforcement becomes less of an issue. But we're still going to enforce.'" Aha. Personally, I feel SO much better now.

3. "'It is scary to think that there could be such hefty fines imposed on unsuspecting households,' another garage sale organizer, Patti Lombardi, told 'I think I speak for many people when I say that the government spends too much time interfering in the individual citizen's personal life and this is almost bordering on the ridiculous ... what if it opens up a Pandora's box of litigation brought by the purchasers of items at garage sales?'"

RW - Ms. Lombardi hits the nail on the head for the business community. We all KNOW that litigation will follow in the wake of this law. There is a reason why the trial bar-supported consumer groups are all so gung-ho on this law. Everything's illegal now (check out your reporting requirements under Section 15(b) of the CPSIA - you have a generous 24 hours to report ANY violation of ANY term of ANY law, regulation or rule enforced by the CPSC (they don't even publish a list, btw) - super!). Litigation by public attorney generals, State attorney generals and the Feds is expected by everyone. Given that it is inevitable that everyone will have violated something, and with the imputed knowledge standard of the CPSIA, probably deemed to have done so "intentionally", the choice of when and who to sue will favor the government rather substantially. The law was written to terrorize - and mission accomplished, it has.

4. "'If I've got a wirebound notebook, the lead content in that wire binding is now under scrutiny, even though the chance of ingesting lead in any amount from something like that is virtually non-existent, [ content director Chris Byrne] said. 'It's a level of political grandstanding to say 'we're taking care of everything,' but the science clearly demonstrates that the transference is not really possible — I mean, a child who eats the wire binding from a notebook is going to have significantly worse health problems than lead.'"

Perhaps you get the idea. I wonder if the CPSC and Congress will EVER get the idea.

1 comment:

Esther said...

Scott Wolfson over the weekend tried to claim that FoxNews was lying on twitter. He tweeted that the CPSC would only go after big corporations. I tweeted back:

"Citizen's can't rely on the "good intentions" of a few bureaucrats when the law has gone horribly awry for so many. #CPSIA"

"Or are you implying the CPSC won't fully enforce the #CPSIA law? The law makes no distinction between yard sales vs. big corp"

He never responded back.