CPSC: Fifty AGs, 50 State Standards

By March 3, 2008Briefly Legal

From The Examiner, commenting on S. 2663, legislation to expand the authority and activities of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, as well as make state attorneys general an enforcement authority of their own. From “State attorneys general shouldn’t be toy inspectors“:

In the course of adding requirements for voluminous product safety warnings and otherwise expanding the reach of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it would give extremely broad powers to state AGs “to obtain penalties and relief … whenever the attorney general of the State has reason to believe that the interests of the residents of the State have been or are being threatened or adversely affected by a manufacturer, distributor, or retailer entity that violates this Act or a regulation under this Act.”

But is anybody encouraging state AGs to step in when the CPSC already exists to perform just such oversight? Even setting aside the fact that the state AGs have no uniform standards of conduct to guide (or restrain) them, a big problem is that the proposal would effectively double the bureaucracy involved in the regulatory scheme. What is the point of centralizing the enforcement of product safety in the CPSC when the very next step invites officers in all 50 states to put their own interpretations on the safety requirements? Already, the House has passed a bill on the same subject — but without the invitation to the state AGs — by the unassailable margin of 407-0. Such unanimity in Washington is exceedingly rare. It seems foolish, then, for the Senate to muddy the waters by advancing Pryor’s far more problematic bill.

For more on this topic, read this New York Post column by Jeff Stiers, associate director of the American Council on Science and Health, “‘Safety’ Insanity.”

Federal scientists and local lawmakers alike would be shunted aside in favor of the wisdom (or lack thereof) of your local crusading AG, effectively one of America’s 50 new science czars. It would then be up to a federal district court to decide whether the product was in fact a hazard.

Imagine the chaos, with various AGs targeting different products in the different states. It would be a nightmare for manufacturers and for consumers, who’d no longer know what was safe.

The NAM supports a strong CPSC with a larger budget, but it’s hard to see how expanding and duplicating authorities while giving trial lawyers more opportunity to sue improves protection of the public health.

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