February 07, 2009
Handmade Toy Alliance wins a stay

Some good news from last week for the Handmade Toy Alliance - they got a one year reprieve on enforcement of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Federal regulators on Friday postponed some testing requirements that would have forced many companies to pay ten of thousands of dollars to check children's products for lead content, giving manufacturers and retailers a one-year reprieve.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission deferred the deadline, originally Feb. 10, by which manufacturers and importers of children's goods needed to test every item to ensure it didn't contain more than 600 parts per million of lead. They also have an extra year to test for phthalates, chemicals often used in plastic.


The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was passed by Congress last year after dozens of toys were recalled. It called for manufacturers to test products by Feb. 10 and for retailers to dispose of products that had not been tested by that date.

The two-member commission voted to stay those requirements for a year, after toy makers, publishers and clothing manufacturers voiced their concerns. The commission had already clarified a portion of the law that could have forced thrift stores to dump all of their children's clothing; the move in effect exempted them.

Also on Friday, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said he was planning to introduce legislation next week to exempt some small businesses from the law and require the commission to distribute a compliance guide, among other things.

The commission has been bombarded with thousands of calls, e-mails, letters and visits from people upset about the law, Martyak said. Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) and Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) also sent the commission a seven-page letter chastising it for the "great deal of confusion and misinformation" that had arisen over the law.

The industry is still waiting for guidance on whether toys and clothing made from natural materials will be exempted from the law entirely. And there are exceptions to the stay: Manufacturers still must test products for small parts that may break off, lead content in children's jewelry and lead paint. They also must ensure that cribs conform to standards set by the law.

"It looks like a positive step, but there's still a lot of legalese," said Dan Marshall, founder of the Handmade Toy Alliance, which was created to inform small toy companies about the law and advocate for them.

You can see a copy of the stay order here (PDF). This is good news for the craftspeople, but it's only a delay, not a resolution. If nothing happens, they'll be in the same position in a year's time. Congress has a lot of work to do this year, but I hope they make time for this as well.

One of the things that may perhaps come out of this experience is a better understanding of how laws intended to regulate big businesses need to take into account the way smaller businesses operate as well. This Business Week article discusses that, while this DC Examiner piece takes a more cynical look at the sausage-making process that led to all this. And finally, where there's crime there's defense attorneys, and so we have Mark Bennett examining the criminal liabilities under the CPSIA. May it never come to that for the HTA's stakeholders.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 07, 2009 to National news
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