WASHINGTON (AP) - Responding to record recalls of products that
sickened children, the Senate passed legislation Thursday that
would toughen inspections of toys and other playthings made outside
The bill calls for a public database of consumer complaints,
bolsters the Consumer Products Safety Commission to help it certify
the safety of overseas products, bans lead in children's goods and
sets new standards for safe toys.
It won approval by a 79-13 vote after four days of debate. The
Bush administration and other critics said the database unfairly
could taint manufacturers. But President Bush stopped short of
threatening a veto.
Both the Senate and House versions passed with veto-proof
margins, increasing the chances a compromise would draw similar
"Even though (Bush) doesn't like it, I think he's going to have
to take it," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told
reporters during a conference call.
Congress has much to do before Bush has the chance to make that
"The hard work starts" now, said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., with
negotiators from each chamber working to reconcile their
differences. He managed the bill with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
The House's version, passed by a 407-0 vote in December, has
many differences, including a lower cap for jury awards. Regarding
the database, the House version proposes a study on how to create
The congressional debate was thick with emotion. The mothers of
two boys sickened by toys tearfully urged Congress to speed the
legislation to the president, saying many provisions would have
helped her children and prevent others from similar dangers.
For Colton Burkhart's parents, it was a medallion from a
gumball-type machine that cost just a quarter, but nearly took his
Colton, then 4, swallowed the trinket and almost died from the
lead it contained. Four years and a battery of tests, surgeries and
therapy later, the Redmond, Ore., boy still has elevated levels of
lead in his body.
Colton's mother, Kara, visited the Senate this week to tell
anyone who would listen about Colton's ordeal. But Colton fared
better than another 4-year-old, Jarnell Graham of Minneapolis, who
died from lead poisoning under similar circumstances.
It was their cases - and hundreds like them - that spurred the
recalls last year of millions of Chinese-produced toys, from Barbie
doll accessories to Thomas the Tank Engine. Congress, in turn,
produced legislation that would overhaul the Consumer Products
Safety Commission, responsible for ensuring that toys and other
products pose no hazard.
Klobuchar and Pryor said the legislation was written in close
consultation from some of the retailers who had to pull recalled
products from store shelves.
"We believe that stronger federal quality assurance standards
will play a critical role in achieving what we all are striving
for: the safest possible products for our children," Toys "R" Us
Inc. said in a statement after the Senate vote.
The Senate bill would nearly double the agency's budget and
increase its staff to nearly 500 people by 2013.
The new database would collect information from people,
hospitals and other sources about injuries, illnesses and deaths
from consumer products.
The Senate bill would raise the civil penalty cap per violation
from $8,000 to $250,000 and the limit for a related series of
violations from $1.8 million to $20 million; the House version
would raise the penalty limit to $10 million.
The final Senate bill included amendments, including one by
Klobuchar that would prohibit agency staff from taking trips paid
for by companies and industries they regulate.
Also included was an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein,
D-Calif., that would ban phthalates - chemicals in plastic that can
cause health problems - in children's toys and products.
The administration issued a statement this week citing
half-dozen provisions about which it had various levels of concern,
but none serious enough to merit a veto.
The agency, according to the administration, should enforce
safety standards, not attorneys general as the Senate version
proposes. Also, new legal shields for whistleblowers "will cause a
serious increase in the number of frivolous claims brought against
employers," the statement said.
The White House said it was concerned about a requirement that
toys be tested by independent and privately owned third parties.
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