I’m on the pavement, thinkin’ ’bout the government

OK, OK – I’m actually in a chair, thinkin’ ’bout the government. More specifically, I’m thinking about a couple of stubborn jackasses, and the incredible brokenness of a system in which everybody knows that the people voting on our laws rarely have or take time to read them, and that they’re basically incomprehensible anyway, which is why we have so many lawyers; a system where a law theoretically intended to protect children from poisonous mass-produced junk from overseas will, if not fixed, quite possibly ensure that all we’re allowed to buy is (hopefully at least not still poisonous) mass-produced junk from overseas. (Forbes.com has a couple of good articles about it, here and here, from Walter Olson of Overlawyered.com.)

As you may know (unless you rely on the New York Times for all your news – they haven’t said a word about this in five months), a law was passed back in August that requires that *all* products that are aimed at children under12 be tested for lead and a few other toxins. This is a great idea – until you read the actual legislation and realize that ALL products have to be tested. Every snap, every button, every bolt, every skein of yarn – a sample from every batch of every product. Make sweaters in more than one size? Guess what – that’s more than one batch – and more than one test. More than one multi-hundred-dollar test.

Who can afford that? The giant multinational co-owners of Congress that make, import and sell the aforementioned mass-produced junk from overseas. Plus, there’s only a few companies in the country certified to do the testing, and they don’t want to handle small businesses because they rely on economies of scale to make their business profitable – they do business with the Mattels and Wal-Marts of the world.

Now, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been trying to reassure people that small businesses won’t generally be worth their time to prosecute… which means absolutely nothing. As of Feb. 10th, crafters and companies who can’t afford to test every batch of their products – even if they use only natural, certified organic products sourced entirely from American resources – will still be felons, they’ll just be uncaught felons. Uncaught, that is, until some clever, just-large-enough-to-afford-testing business owner realizes he can thin out the competition by turning them in on the CPSC website. And handcrafters, who produce one-of-a-kind items? They’ll basically have to pay several hundred dollars for the privilege of having everything they make dissolved in acid.

And then, of course, there’s the libraries, and thrift stores, and used book stores, all of whom are quite likely going to be affected… because this law doesn’t just apply to new manufacturing, nosiree – it’s retroactive! It applies to all products that have EVER BEEN produced for children under 12. As of February 10th, it will be ILLEGAL to sell, donate or give away products for children that you know or suspect have not been tested.

If you make things that you sell or give away that might possibly be of interest to a child under 12, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act affects you. If you buy things for a child under 12, this law affects you. If you happen to like libraries, or thrift stores, or used book stores, or shopping at Goodwill – this law affects you.

It’s already affecting my good friends and thousands of other handcrafters and small businesspeople across the country.

So what can you do? Talk about it. Blog about it. (Wednesday’s a good day.)

Contact Rep. Henry Waxman (who, in addition to being the co-sponsor of the law, is also chair of the House Commerce Committee… which means if he doesn’t want to allow amendments – which he doesn’t – it isn’t gonna happen. And nobody can make him.)

Contact Rep. Bobby Rush, the other co-sponsor. Contact your Representative and Senators, to ask them to pressure Waxman into allowing discussion on the bill. Contact industry lobbying groups – they don’t actually want to help, but if enough people contact them they may decide it’s in their best interest not to tick off a bunch of consumers.


8 thoughts on “I’m on the pavement, thinkin’ ’bout the government

  1. Greenconsciousness

    This is what I wrote my friend who is a hand made artist:

    Read the law. Sometimes there are exceptions — If there are none write an exception. Because lead is really a harm to children, there is no use opposing the law; no one will support that. But an exception for small businesses (10 or less employees) who sign a statement that there is NO lead based products in what they manufacture may pass as an amendment if all etsy workers get their senators on board with a petition.

  2. executivepagan Post author

    I’m sure that, eventually, such compromises will come to pass. However, in the meantime a significant amount of damage will have been done – livelihoods lost, businesses shuttered, and the poorest among us made even poorer when they can no longer buy used clothing for their children. That’s why we’re arguing against implementation of the law as it stands and on its current timetable; by the time they correct the course of the ship, it may well have already foundered.

    And while Rep. Waxman has now written to the CPSC basically asking them to help bail him and the Congress out of the mess they created (reference here) – and I should point out that, according to one of the articles I link to above, it is not clear that the CPSC *can* make any rule changes regarding this bill – I still have seen no report that he is allowing any amendments of the bill that might have the effects you describe, to come up before his committee. Unless and until that happens, there *will* be a disaster on Feb. 10; the only question is how big.

  3. Greenconsciousness

    I bet it is the Wal Marts and Mattel’s and Chinese embassy who hired a PR firm to alarm the small manufacturers enough to oppose a bill which will affect only the import market. I doubt if Goodwill clothes will be shut down. We saw this tactic used to torpedo health care and to stop regulation of the organic and herbal remedy fields. The PR firms alarm with false consequences people who believe they will lose what they value through improved regulation. This helps the big exploiters and actually harms ordinary citizens.

    You say a compromise will be worked out for small businesses yet it is better not to have the bill at all. Lead in toys has harmed children, most of it imported. You may be being used by those who want to keep producing harmful products regardless of whom is hurt for bigger profits. How many children died in china from melinite in the milk? My cat died from their poisoned cat food. Be careful when unreasonable fear kills reasonable regulation. Try to find out where the opposition info is comming from– be suspicious a new organizations with progressive names like People for Small Business Freedom and such….

  4. executivepagan Post author

    oppose a bill which will affect only the import market.
    But that’s just the point – as written, the law does NOT just affect the import market. It affects everyone. I have crafter friends who are already being told by the small retailers they sell to that the CPSIA will make it impossible for them to keep buying from them.

    You say a compromise will be worked out for small businesses yet it is better not to have the bill at all.

    Actually, I quite explictly did NOT say that. I said, “That’s why we’re arguing against implementation of the law as it stands and on its current timetable“. Suspending implementation until the most egregious problems can be fixed – replacing batch-based testing with materials-based testing, for one, which would permit crafters and others to accept a certificate from a materials manufacturer – is most decidedly not the same thing as calling for the law to be scrapped.

  5. Lorelei

    One thing – the CPSC issued a clarification stating that,”Sellers of used children’s products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards.” It specifies that the stores will not be permitted to sell things that violate the lead level, and therefore suggests that they avoid products that might have lead content (and even provides a list of suggestions of products to avoid, such as recalled cribs, painted wooden or metal toys, and toys that might break or come apart. I think it’s safe to say that the CPSC is genuinely concerned with children’s safety, but are willing to listen to things like facts when making their rulings. Hopefully they will eliminate the need for testing for things that are otherwise certified lead-free, whether they are made of things that cannot contain lead (like paper or cloth), or the manufacturer uses “certified lead-free paint” or whatever.

  6. Pingback: CPSIA chronicles, February 12

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