Over the Christmas holidays, numerous media outlets covered the story that small manufacturing companies making handcrafted or high-quality “natural” toys were taking a big hit in costs because of last year’s Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act’s requirements for frequent, expensive testing. (See earlier post here, here and here.) But it’s not just toys that face the consequences of last year’s Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, legislation pushed by self-styled “consumer” activist groups and the trial lawyer lobby. The law targets products aimed at children ages 12 or under.
Walter Olson of the Manhattan Institute chronicles the excesses piled upon excesses of the law in a new Forbes’ column, “Scrap The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act,” listing the items covered by the CPSIA: clothing, fabric and hats, shoes, diapers, hair bands, sports pennants, Scouting patches, local school-logo gear, books, flash cards, board games, baseball cards, kits for home schoolers, party supplies and the like. And sporting equipment, outdoor gear, bikes, backpacks and telescopes. Kids furnishings. Etc. Etc.
Makers of these goods can’t rely only on materials known to be unproblematic (natural dyed yarn, local wood) or that come from reputable local suppliers, or even ones that are certified organic.
Instead they must put a sample item from each lot of goods through testing after complete assembly, and the testing must be applied to each component. For a given hand-knitted sweater, for example, one might have to pay not just, say, $150 for the first test, but added-on charges for each component beyond the first: a button or snap, yarn of a second color, a care label, maybe a ribbon or stitching–with each color of stitching thread having to be tested separately.
Suddenly the bill is more like $1,000–and that’s just to test the one style and size. The same sweater in a larger size, or with a different button or clasp, would need a new round of tests–not just on the button or clasp, but on the whole garment. The maker of a kids’ telescope (with no suspected problems) was quoted a $24,000 testing estimate, on a product with only $32,000 in annual sales.
On and on. Children’s libraries, bookstores, thrift stores could all fall under the testing dictates of this regulatory and legal overreach. Lawmakers were warned the bill would introduce new liability and costs for manufacturers, but the activists, product liability litigators and the fear-mongering media held the upper hand. The result was bad law.
Walter also writes about the issue at his essential blog, Overlawyered.com, in this post, “Kids’ empty shelves: CPSIA continued.” The Wall Street Journal also weighed in on the law in an editorial last week, “Pelosi’s Toy Story.”
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