House, Senate to Confer on Differing Product Safety Bills

May 5, 2008

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor will head a conference committee on legislation to strengthen consumer product safety efforts, and says the group will meet soon.

The Democrat from Arkansas, who chairs the committee, said the group will consider the concerns of retailers, manufacturers and consumer groups in a “full-fledged” conference that makes decisions in the open.

Deaths and injuries caused by unsafe products last year sparked congressional interest in the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which Pryor has described as “withering on the vine.”

While the House bill contains provisions he supports, Pryor said, he would “fight hard” for the Senate version to prevail.

The House passed its bill in December. The Senate approved a version three months later. Both bills increase penalties for companies that violate safety rules and increase funding for the commission.

The Senate version would allow state attorneys general to police federal rules by taking dangerous toys off store shelves. It also would protect whistleblowers who report wrongdoing and would create a public database of product-safety concerns about specific products reported to the regulator by manufacturers and retailers.

The House bill defines a child as anyone under 12; while the Senate definition applies to children under 7. The House version also would give companies 180 days to remove from their shelves toys tainted with lead. The Senate bill would give them one year.

Chuck Samuels, general counsel for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, expects Congress to pass legislation that places more regulations on manufacturers, importers and retailers. He said the Senate bill would give state attorneys general too much discretion and lead to inconsistent interpretations of the law.

Ray Bracy, senior vice president of government relations at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., raised concerns over making public company information on unsubstantiated safety claims. But he stressed that Wal-Mart would follow whatever new rules are enacted.

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