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CPSIA – The Senate Wants to Save ATVs . . . What about the Rest of Us???

Yesterday Senators Klobuchar and Tester offered an amendment to S. 493, a moving bill to reauthorize the small business administration (“SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011″).

CPSIA – Nancy Nord Chimes in on Baby Monitors

You gotta read Nancy Nord’s blog on the baby monitor recall. It speaks for itself and is basically on the topic of why they call certain actions “recalls” and others something else. In the controversial recall of Summer Infant baby monitor, Ms. Nord notably admits the involvement of the CPSC in this recall. Check it out. This is NOT my imagination.

Read more here:
CPSIA – Nancy Nord Chimes in on Baby Monitors

CPSIA – More Analysis of Damaging Foreign Mfr Accountability Legislation

One additional point about the design of the extremely ill-conceived Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act of 2010: the “minimum amount” hurdle that triggers the requirement to register for service of process is NOT set by the law. The different agencies have to set it for the products they regulate.

The draft legislation provides the following mechanism for establishing this limit:

“(4) APPLICABILITY — (A) IN GENERAL.—Paragraph (1) applies only with respect to a foreign manufacturer or producer that exceeds minimum requirements established by the head of the applicable agency under this section. (B) FACTORS.—In determining the minimum requirements for application of paragraph (1) to a foreign manufacturer or producer, the head of the applicable agency shall, at a minimum, consider the following: (i) The value of all covered products imported from the manufacturer or producer in a calendar year. (ii) The quantity of all covered products imported from the manufacturer or producer in a calendar year. (iii) The frequency of importation from the manufacturer or producer in a calendar year.”

So for those of us suffering under the CPSIA, this legislation tenders some discretion to the CPSC on how penal this provision will be. Interesting, isn’t it, that Congress will allow the CPSC to set this threshold without oversight but won’t let them assess the risk of pens, rhinestones, science kits or ATVs? Anyhow, given the current practice of the CPSC to apply strict liability standards to so many things, leading to recalls of (for instance) 40 inflatable toy baseball bats for violative phthalate levels (the one-and-only recall for phthalates in U.S. history) and the pending “15 Month Rule” which creates an unbearably expensive and risk-averse scheme of safety compliance, I presume that the CPSC will set these thresholds very low. After all, how else can American consumers sleep well at night???

And consider how this rule might be applied. To determine whether you are above or below the threshold, you must disclose your revenues and volumes to the government for their scrutiny and approval. This is remarkably invasive and is reason enough for many factories to concentrate on sales to South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Who needs this nonsense?

[And if registration is unavoidable, the registration process itself is also tedious and requires the disgorgement of lots of detailed information - which not only will discourage participation but also sets up the foreign manufacturers for liability to the government for "false" statements if they make errors. We have 1500 catalog items, so I can identify with the problems that this kind of requirement might create. It's nothing more than a bureaucratic set-up for regulators to accumulate causes of action to use as they see fit.]

If you think I am delusional or just tend to see the world darkly, please ask yourself – would YOU disclose ANY of this information to the government of Germany? China? Slovakia? Venezuela? Do you trust foreign governments? The confidentiality of their records? The likelihood that this information will not come back to bite you? Do you expect to get a fair shake in a foreign jurisdiction, particularly in a dispute with a local company? Do you think your suppliers will serve you better if you ask them to do this? Are you important enough to influence your suppliers or would they simply throw you overboard? What will this mean to your business – even if foreign governments refrain from retaliation (unlikely)?

This is yet more evidence of the shamefully low quality work of this Congress and its absolute ignorance of the real world. Think of the pending Waxman Amendment which posits that alternative testing methods can be used by small (micro) businesses to avoid certain testing requirements under the CPSIA. Of course, no such testing methods exist but that’s just a trivial detail, right? Or the fact that in order to qualify for this “relief” under that legislation, each of these tiny businesses must disclose their financial records to Mother Government to confirm their eligibility for relief. Sounds REALLY workable, right? It does, if you have never worked for a company and have been closeted in the federal government for long enough.

Another sad, sorry low point for the worst Congress in history. Well, it’s nice to be distinguished in SOME way, right???

Read more here:
CPSIA – More Analysis of Damaging Foreign Mfr Accountability Legislation

CPSIA – Your Partner in Mischief, Congress

Never content to leave an economy merely in tatters, Henry Waxman and Bobby Rush jumped into action this week to create an international trade war, all in the name of “protecting” you. In fact, their troubling new legislation includes a sneak amendment of the CPSIA. It also takes an idea dropped from the CPSIA (submission to U.S. jurisdiction) and applies it across several new industries. Sounds promising, right?

Nominally introduced by Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH), a wobbly Democrat said to need propping up in her faltering reelection campaign, the new bill (called “H.R.4678 — Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act of 2010″) is scheduled for mark-up tomorrow (in Rush’s subcommittee. This innocuous and technical sounding bill is packed with trouble for you and for our country. In Sutton’s blue collar industrial district, that kind of work is prized. Or so the Dems must think.

Here is the GovTrack version of the bill. In fact, I have obtained a more recent version of the bill, a “manager’s mark-up” , which includes many new provisions. The revised version of the bill packs quite a punch, right to the gut. I discuss the newer version of the bill below.

The purpose of this bill is to make foreign manufacturers of finished goods and parts intended to be used as components in those finished goods register for service of process in this country. In other words, foreign manufacturers must register here so our plaintiff’s bar and the government can sue them with ease. The new law prohibits trade with foreign manufacturers unless they are registered, and enlists the aid of the federal government’s snarling dog, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, to enforce this law.

This means that every factory we use outside the U.S. will have to register for service of process in the U.S. if we want to continue to import our products from them. The law goes even FURTHER, asking that each agency involved to study ways to force manufacturers of components to register here, too. So, for example, if you make a toy in China and your factory buys boxes from a local printer who has NO contractual relationship with you, this law asks the agencies to study the feasibility of getting such box printers to register for service of process in this country. To accomplish that lofty goal, of course, you have to know their identity. Our customers do not know our vendors’ names and we aren’t telling. It’s none of their business. Do you think it’s any different for our factories relative to us? Will they ever disclose that information to our Mother Government (to them, a foreign government)? Please – would you disclose your sources to the Chinese government? And who pays the administrative and out-of-pocket costs of this exercise? And what about the consequences of the fear factor and the costs of new litigation on markets?

What-a-stimulus program! Naturally, those groups most linked to your future business health and ability to create jobs, the plaintiff’s bar and consumer groups, think this legislation is long overdue!

The scope of this law covers the EPA, the CPSC, the FDA and NHTSA, and applies to drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, “biological products”, consumer products, chemicals and chemical mixtures under TSCA (the coming storm), pesticides, motor vehicles or “motor vehicle equipment”, plus components for the foregoing. That’s pretty much everything and everyone.

Oh, by the way, the manager’s mark-up adds a little provision that gives you five working days to inform the CPSC if you have “a safety recall or other safety campaign” in any country, whether initiated by the company or by the foreign government. Just thought they’d slip that one in, just in case you weren’t watching!

So, who cares? Doesn’t this “solve” the Chinese drywall problem? In fact, it’s going to make things a lot worse. This is Major League trade war material. It is not entirely unlike Smoot-Hawley, the bill that precipitated the Depression. None of our factories will be willing to accept exposure to our ravenous tort system and out-of-control invasive government regulators as a condition of doing business with us. To most of them, this will be too risky and too hard to understand. Our suppliers are small businesses like us – they will NEVER have the resources or skills to master the minute details of our legal system and myriad risks and rules. It will also be breathtakingly expensive for them, and they run very low margin businesses with no ability to absorb those costs.

Even if some of our factories will take this risk, many will not. As with Smoot-Hawley’s tariffs, this kind of rule will spur quick responses by foreign governments. If the U.S. wants the right to reach across borders and take the assets of foreign companies without a legal presence in this country, then foreign governments will extend the same “privilege” to U.S. companies selling products inside their borders. Won’t that be nice?! Learning Resources sells its products in dozens of countries. Will we have to register in each country to continue to do so? Will we be exposed to lawsuits all over the world as a result? Will we have to pay to settle “strike suits” in dozens of new jurisdictions? If the answer is yes, I cannot imagine staying in business across borders.

The provision about foreign “safety campaigns” is intended to make sure that we don’t miss a trick here. The Waxmanis want a worldwide recall system. Does ANYONE IN CONGRESS know what this will cost? Congress must want to terminate small businesses in our economy.

Rumor has it that Ways and Means wants to take this bill out of the hands of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Of course. Speaker Pelosi can skip that step if she wants. Ways and Means purportedly knows there are BIG problems here and I am assured the Republicans on that committee will fight to restrain this bill. Still, it is in keeping with recent House practice to pass something irresponsible and dangerous like this bill, relying on the Senate to stop it. It’s a “message” bill, unless it somehow gets passed into law . . . . Then there’s the rumor that the Dems intend to stick it into a moving bill, like a jobs bill, to make it impossible to stop. You know, because it’s for our own good.

This is an example of how I learned to HATE Congress and Democrats. These rules descend on our business in suffocating waves, adding no value but creating major distractions and feeding fear. On the other hand, perhaps I will be eating crow when Obama’s recently announced master plan to reduce the deficit by two-thirds in three years through increased spending, increased entitlements, increased taxes and increased regulation works like a charm. Maybe this law is part of the implementation of that great plan.

It must be me.

It must be me. . . right?

Read more here:
CPSIA – Your Partner in Mischief, Congress

CPSIA – What is a "Substantial Product Hazard"?

How does the CPSC decide which items to recall and which ones to permit to remain in the market?
The basis for a CPSC recall is found in Section 15(c) and 15(d) of the Consumer Product Safety Act. The CPSC is only entitled to recall items which present a “substantial product hazard”, defined in section 15(a) in relevant part as: “a product defect which (because of the pattern of defect, the number of defective products distributed in commerce, the severity of the risk, or otherwise) creates a substantial risk of injury to the public.
Can the CPSC designate anything it wants as a “substantial product hazard”? Not in my opinion, if this legal standard is to have any meaning. Some things are substantial product hazards, and some things are lesser hazards. Those lesser hazards may still be of concern to the CPSC, but the agency lacks the legal authority to order their recall. Other solutions, such as public warnings or voluntary action by the industry, can appropriately address less severe risks adequately.
It gets tricky when there are injuries to children. [This legal dilemma has previously been parodied by The Onion - eerily anticipating the recall of dart guns pictured here.] If there are injuries or deaths, will the product always be considered a “substantial product hazard”? What if the accidents occur because of product abuse, recklessness or age-inappropriate behavior? If injuries under those circumstances constitute a “substantial product hazard”, will ALL similar abuses of products be considered a “substantial product hazard”? I would think this line of reasoning would make many things, including guns, knives and even forks, suitably for urgent recall. What about broken glass – if a kid eats broken glass or ceramic, wouldn’t he/she be terribly injured? Should the CPSC now recall everything made of glass? What about newspapers – paper can burn and cause injury. Recall the Chicago Tribune? [This is my fantasy.]
And if you can go this far, why must the abuse or inappropriate behavior even have to take place? Why not recall items just because you can imagine an injury occurring from an abuse that may have never happened? Is that a “substantial product hazard”? Is this pure fantasy or could recalls occur on this basis? Read on.
When there are injuries to kids, emotions run high, and the “substantial product hazard” standard expands. Add in newspaper headlines, and anything seems possible nowadays. Let’s not forget that in the last eleven years, there has been ONE death from lead, when a four year old swallowed a lead jewelry charm – and, BINGO, we were gifted the CPSIA as a result. The law gives a lot of wiggle room to the motivated regulator. Some recent recalls call into question whether the substantial product hazard” standard is being observed at all.

Case 1:
Cadmium jewelry. It is accepted that cadmium has been used in jewelry for decades, although not widely. Nevertheless, to my knowledge, there has never been a reported case of “cadmium poisoning” from jewelry. Pediatricians have virtually no awareness of cadmium poisoning as a health threat. The low probability of childhood injury from cadmium in children’s products is also evidenced by the CPSC’s lack of data on the health impact of ingesting cadmium in this form – it never came up until the Associated Press sounded the “alarm”. The available data on cadmium relates only to workplace exposure or airborne cadmium.
It is equally well-accepted that children inappropriately mouth jewelry. It is also known that children can and do swallow jewelry, which happens thousands of times each year. No child thinks jewelry is food – but these things happen.
Cadmium is in (some) children’s jewelry. Kids are known to mouth and/or swallow jewelry. Cadmium is a dangerous metal and can be harmful if swallowed. So, does this mean that cadmium in jewelry a “substantial product hazard”? Given that there has NEVER been a reported case of injury, it is hard to describe the risk of “severe” or even “substantial”. It is best described as “possible”. Yet, the CPSC has recalled cadmium jewelry three times now.
Unfortunately, the CPSC has chosen to respond to the stimulus of newspaper headlines and the ill-informed action of state legislatures, rather than the discipline imposed by its own statutory legal standard. By labeling this hazard “substantial”, the CPSC creates many problems that could have lasting impact on the market. It imposes high costs on the industry for something that may not matter much, dilutes the impact of recalls of more dangerous products (have you noticed that the pace of recalls has really picked up at the agency – does that help or hurt the CPSC’s mission?), and diverts the resources and attention of the CPSC staff away from larger and more pressing issues.
Perhaps worst of all, contrary to the assertions of Inez Tenenbaum, the confidence of the marketplace is being eroded by the deluge of recalls. Who can you trust anymore? Is the message that you can only trust Mother Government? If so, is Mother Government planning to take over the manufacturing of all children’s products next? No one will have enough capital to survive this style of “regulating” for much longer so they better get ready to take over. This is no market stimulus program.

Case 2
: Dart Guns. I am in the educational toy business and have children of my own. So I am prejudiced – I have no idea why anyone makes toys of this nature. Our company certainly doesn’t, and we never allowed them in our home either. However, in our society, guns and dart guns have a certain appeal and they apparently sell well. Family Dollar Stores sold 1.8 million units of a small dart gun set for $1.50 in recent years (pictured above). It looks pretty generic to me, and for $1.50, it is clearly a cheap, disposable novelty toy.
Sadly, two boys (9 and 10 years old, respectively) died in separate incidents in which they were chewing on these darts and aspirated them. The dart suction cup blocked their airways, leading to tragedy. These terrible accidents are sad confirmation of the unnecessary risk posed by dart guns as toys. But do these circumstances meet the “substantial product hazard” standard? If they don’t, how can the CPSC recall this item?
My argument is that while this toy is very objectionable and apparently capable of harming children, I do not know if they rise to the level of a “substantial” product hazard just because of the two accidental deaths (especially in light of 1.8 million sets sold, plus many millions more of similar items already in the market presenting the same “risk”). The statute does not provide that deaths automatically constitute substantial product hazards. Presumably, if that’s what Congress meant, it might have said so. The tragic accidents occurred when two children were doing something they shouldn’t. They were also at an age where they were supposed to know better. That doesn’t make the loss of these boys any less painful but it does suggest that these incidents were terrible accidents rather than substantial product hazards. It may be that the families’ remedies should be in the courts, not via the CPSC. In any event, if we (as a society) don’t like dart guns, that’s fine – we should ban them. Notably, the CPSC is not taking that position in this case.
Recalls cost a lot of money, and it is naive to believe that the market will not respond to an erosion in the legal standard for recalls. Legal standards are an important part of the “rules of the road”. If the rules change, the entire game changes. In this case, if we are all exposed to the risk of a massive, multi-year recall of our legal products because of accidents and tragedies arising out of misuse, we will have to change our business models in ways very disadvantageous to consumers. No one has the profit margin to accommodate these unplanned and random expenses. We have no answer for this business problem – we are not clairvoyant.
For small, niche businesses like ours, the erosion of expected legal protections is very scary. These recalls are a gross expansion of capricious government power, no matter how scary cadmium jewelry is or how much we might be angry at dart gun makers. With an increasingly reactive CPSC demanding recalls to meet the expectations of newspaper headlines, randomness is complicating business planning and generally demoralizing the regulated community.
I may sound like a broken record, but this style of government is stoking voter anger. We have little recourse over these policies or over the intransigence of the Dems in Congress other than in the voting booth. I, for one, won’t forget all this. We need a new sheriff in town.

Read more here:
CPSIA – What is a "Substantial Product Hazard"?

CPSIA – A Quick and Incomplete Analysis of New Draft Waxman Amendment 2.0

With only a few hours to look over the new draft of the Waxman Amendment 2.0 before tomorrow’s meeting, I guess the idea is that we are supposed to drop what we are doing to complete an analysis fire drill. Power trip for the Waxman staffers? Possibly. Still, what choice do we have? I thought I would outline my preliminary comments to contribute to the debate.

It goes without saying that this is entirely my own work without the benefit of discussing it with others similarly situated and without the opportunity to compare notes. It is therefore likely that I have missed something important or made other mistakes. Sorry . . . . This post is also painfully long. Again, given that Mr. Waxman hardly cares about your problems or mine, I have little choice but to post this as one essay. Again, sorry . . . .

a. Modifications to Section 101(b)(2) Exemption Process:

  • The idiotic post-exemption warnings provision has been deleted.
  • The three-pronged exemption test remains in place, as does the ambiguous and troubling term “practicable”. “Practicable” is a sneaky Waxman approach to providing an escape hatch for big industries with narrow product definitions like ATVs and books. You’re not supposed to know this. Our laws aren’t for the little people anymore.
  • The third prong of the exemption test has been clarified from no effect on “public health or safety” to no effect on “the user’s health or safety, taking into account normal and foreseeable use and abuse by all foreseeable users.” This change seems like new belts and suspenders to make it easy to deny an exemption. The Dem zealots want to be sure no one gets an exemption but ATVs and books, wink-wink-nudge-nudge.
  • Poor applicants for exemptions are still obliged to wait hungrily by the door of the CPSC for the leavings of rich supplicants. Yes, small business owners who want exemptions like the big guys but can’t afford to pay the big bucks can reuse the big guys’ consultant’s reports provided the evidence is considered non-proprietary. [Whatever that might be.] Nice . . . if someone else has already paid for it and submitted it in an exemption process, and if you have access to it (and have found it), you can use it. Noblesse oblige, I guess. Thank You, Kind Sir. I speak for all the little people . . . . Oddly, this concept reappears in a confusing provision called “Previously Denied Petitions” that only refers to previously denied petitions in its title (I don’t get it).
  • In another “how closely are you watching me?” change, the grounds for decision provision now permits the Commission to consider “only” evidence presented by “interested parties”, rather than the evidence presented by the party seeking such exceptions. So if you ever get as far as an exemption hearing, this provision turns it into a town meeting. How would you like it if anyone could enter and participate in your litigation without your consent . . . like your competitors or your business enemies? I have a good idea – why not just write into the law that Rachel Weintraub will be considered a party in interest to every action at the CPSC?
  • The Narrowest Scope provision has been modified to clarify that you must not only address each component but also each material. The paranoia you sense in this legislation is just the precautionary principle at work. The staffer-gnomes who have been crafting this legislation are not thinking about how our markets work or should work – they are simply obsessing over how we business people might find loopholes. Of course, it is in the nature of business people to try to avoid laws, we are all so evil. Oh yeah, I forgot . . . .
  • The Limitation of Exception provision now is framed in terms of “all foreseeable users” which I can only assume is meant to make the burden of proof higher for supplicants. After all, if you can foresee a so-and-so using the product (I won’t supply the colorful example), then the Commission must limit the exception. No possibility of risk can be tolerated by the precautionary principle folks.

As the provision for exclusions has not changed much, here is my analysis of the original language for your reference.

b. Treatment of Resale Shops by the Waxman Amendment:

  • The provision defining a “used children’s product” seems to now mean (a) an actual used children’s product, and (b) new goods donated for a charitable purpose. This would seem to protect resale shops from liability for sale of items violating the lead provisions (but not the phthalates ban, notably) unless the seller or the person who supplied it to the seller knew it was in violation of the lead provisions. If that seems somewhat circular, it is. In this case, the law as drafted encourages resale shops to remain as ignorant as possible. This is Waxman’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Nice.
  • There has been no clarification about the application of this provision to consignment shops. Do they “obtain” goods for resale if they never take title? Something fun to speculate about!
  • In a little-noticed provision, the definition of “seller” includes lenders or donators of used children’s products. Thus, for lending libraries, they will be in the clear if they lend used goods, but will be on the hook if they lend new product. Does it become “used” after one loan, and if so, what does this mean? The legal department in your local children’s library will figure this out. Sure. As to people who donate, the provision is circular again. As best I can figure out, you are not subject to the lead rules (only) if you are donating something used for charitable purposes, but if you give away something new, you are on the hook. At least, that’s how I read it. So the bottom line is – don’t give anything new to a charity, just give them junk. This is what Mr. Waxman wants. And that means this is what Congress wants.

While these changes may be an improvement, they are sadly improvements without much impact. This provision remains convoluted and hard to understand. The definition has numerous exceptions and also avoids giving the same shelter to resale shops for all the other picayune provisions of the law, like the phthalates ban. Frankly, without a clean exemption for this industry, resale stores are all going to avoid this class of goods. The complexity alone will kill this exemption except for the most sophisticated participants in an industry not known for its legal skills or resources. These stores won’t hire lawyers to check their work. They can’t afford it.

This is my original criticism of this provision, which is still applicable.

c. Prospective Application of 100 ppm Lead Limits – this provision was not changed in the new draft.

d. Low Volume Manufacturer “Exceptions”:

  • Thank heavens, they changed the term of art for these small fry to Small Batch Manufacturers. This was done at the insistence of the HTA. What a victory! Someone please explain this to me.
  • The “In General” provision is basically unchanged, other than the fancy new name for the supposed beneficiaries of this largess. Notably, the last sentence was clarified to make sure no one could contend that Waxman inadvertently gave the Commission the power to grant “alternative testing methodologies” for ANYONE but the small batch guys. There’s so much trust and love flowing here . . . .
  • The truly non-existent “relief” of this provision remains EXACTLY the same. Here it is, bask in its wonderfulness: “The Commission . . . may, by regulation, provide alternative testing requirements for covered products manufactured by small batch manufacturers in lieu of those required under subsection (a) or (b). Any such alternative requirements shall provide for reasonable testing methodologies to assure certification based on compliance with the relevant consumer product safety standards. [Emphasis added] Standing ovation? These lucky micro-businesses must meet alternative TESTING methodologies that ASSURE compliance with the standards. In other words, they gotta test. They even added a “savings clause” to forbid any relief here (such as it is) if any foreseeable user might be foreseeably at risk. Some relief.

Notably, the reach of this section has now been limited to “covered products”. This new term, which incorporates a three-prong test (this is the second three-pronger of this amendment so far, but not the last). [See below.] Please NOTE that this new term means that the ONLY relief the CPSC can grant is to these small fry products. A product that exceeds the limits of a “covered product” will NOT enjoy any theoretical testing relief, even if made by a business qualifying for relief overall. Should you care? Well, in my view, if you have to endure the burden of full compliance with one product, you have to build the full infrastructure and bear the related liabilities. Thus, these micro-businesses supposedly being saved here are actually at substantial risk of suffocation if even ONE product sells well. Too bad for them.

The absurd and utterly inappropriate definition of a “low volume manufacturer” has been completely jumbled and incorporates the new concept of “covered products”, too. Let me try to sort out this for you.

- As noted above, only “covered product” enjoy any potential relief under this section. The “covered products” test is a three-prong test: (i) manufactured not more than 5,000 “units” of the product in the prior fiscal year, (ii) had not more than $30,000 in sales of the product in the prior fiscal year, AND (iii) had no more than $500,000 in total sales in the prior fiscal year. [Do you feel vines growing over your brain yet?] Dollars are indexed for inflation. Notably, the definition ONLY applies to the manufacture of these items, NOT importation. Too bad, importers. GOTCHA!

The implication of this definition is that if you grow to over $500,000 in total sales, all exemptions applicable to any of your low volume items goes up in smoke instantly. That last dollar is gonna HURT. You also cannot get relief for any individual product if your sales of THAT item are greater than 5,000 “units” per year or $30,000 in sales. Here’s another compliance tip: don’t grow your business! Too hard? Don’t worry, the other policies of this government should help you meet this goal . . . .

- The definition of a “small batch manufacturer” defines who should be treated with special charity by the CPSC under this marvelous section of the amendment. It’s not going be a long list. Who wants to see another three-prong test?! Okay, break out your calculator so you can figure out if they are referring to you: (a) AT LEAST TWO-THIRDS of “the manufacturer’s products” (I love that term) meets this two-part test: (i) the manufacturer manufactured or imported not more than 5,000 units of the product in the prior CALENDAR year, AND (ii) the manufacturer had not more than $30,000 in sales of the product in the prior CALENDAR year, AND (b) the manufacturer had not more than $500,000 in sales in the prior CALENDAR year.

This is getting fun! Okay, first we need to decide – is it a two-prong test with one prong having two sub-prongs, or is it a three-prong test? This is a rather metaphysical question . . . but I say it’s our third three-prong test of this short amendment. [Imagine how many three-prong tests are in the health care bill.] I welcome your insights on this question.

There are some interesting quirks in the Small Batch Manufacturer definition. First, this provision applies to imported products, but the “covered products” definition does not. Gotcha! What does this mean? Who knows. The head spins . . . . Even better, the definition of “Small Batch Manufacturer” is based on calendar year calculations and the definition of “covered products” is based on fiscal year calculations. Love it. I learn so much from Mr. Congress. Apparently, Congress wants it to work this way because there must be some sort of dangerous loophole for people who have fiscal years which are not the calendar year. Mr. Waxman is onto your game, you desperadoes! There’s no escape!

At least the Waxmanis kept it simple. Good job, guys, it’s artful!

Btw, they added a little provision to make sure that the Commission investigates the structure of your business’ “affiliations”. Clearly, the Commission needs to make SURE they correctly tote up your revenues for this ornate determination. [Little known fact: the CPSC uses clacker balls for this work.] The reach of the Obamist/Waxman government into your private affairs, in ways completely and utterly unrelated to public interest or safety, apparently knows no bounds. Get your files ready, little businesses – the CPSC wants to take a peek. Perhaps check out your tax returns and . . . oops, it appears you took a few deductions that you weren’t entitled to. We can just let our sister agency know, you don’t have to do ANYTHING, we’re just here to help.

Small business people, you should be flipping mad over this pathetic attempt to “help” you. My original criticism of this provision is still largely applicable.

e. Phthalates Ban Exception for Internal Components: This is largely intact from the prior draft although they did add a provision modifying the Commission’s right to adopt the definition of an internal component from the lead accessibility standard. The Commission must now, “as appropriate”, consider whether the component can be placed in the mouth. We are talking about internal components here.

I wish I had a laugh track for my blog . . . .

f. Removal of CPSA Section 6(b) Due Process Rights of Manufacturers: has been eliminated from the draft.

g. Voluntary Recall Standards to be Matched to Mandatory Recalls: has been eliminated from this draft.

h. Imminent Hazard Panic Attacks by the Commission: has been eliminated from this draft.

i. Subpoena Power for Underlings at the CPSC: This provision was trimmed back partially to apply only to physical and documentary evidence. This modest restructuring of this new right does not in any way address the issues I have pointed out in the past (here and here). This new subpoena power is not essential to the operation of the CPSC, regardless of their assertions, and represents a significant degradation of procedural protections that encourage business people to invest. When all trust is destroyed among the regulated community and its safety regulator, who will want to invest? Hello, Congress?

CONCLUSIONS:

The Waxman Amendment has been improved mainly by deletions of several truly awful and duplicitous provisions. Many defective provisions in the original draft survived the revisions. What’s left provides little substantive relief to the unwashed masses, but promises some sub rosa relief to the book industry and ATV’rs without giving the appearance of favoritism. There is little to cheer here for resale shops, small businesses (even micro-businesses, hello HTA, are you there?), education companies, apparel companies, you-name-it.

And many important issues are left completely unaddressed. I have previously provided my most discrete list of CRITICAL missing elements that must be part of any meaningful amendment of the CPSIA:

  • Risk Assessment by the CPSC and/or the Commission.
  • Changes in age limits for the lead standards and phthalates ban.
  • Narrowing of the scope of “Children’s Product” to eliminate many categories of products unthinkingly pulled into this law by its overly broad language.
  • True reform to protect small businesses.
  • Tracking labels relief.

My full list of needed changes is found here.

More fun to follow tomorrow, I am sure.

Read more here:
CPSIA – A Quick and Incomplete Analysis of New Draft Waxman Amendment 2.0

CPSIA – A 52-Page Morsel for You to Nibble On!

How many pages do you think are necessary to define “Children’s Product”?

Okay, I bet you said 52 pages. That’s cheating! Here is the CPSC’s stab at the definition. No, I haven’t read it yet. It’s 1 AM and I have decided to take a little nap before the sun comes up.

I will be back to you on this important document.

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CPSIA – A 52-Page Morsel for You to Nibble On!

CPSIA – What Constitutes "Safe"?

One of the tragedies of the CPSIA melodrama is that the consumer groups have completely hijacked the concept of safety, turning it utterly away from concepts of risk assessment. To what, you say? Away from management of identifiable risks to avoidance/elimination of perceived risks. In other words, Congress and our regulators now ignore the data on risk and focus instead on the possibility of risk. The POSSIBILITY of injury, not the actuality of injury.

How much of a difference is this? Pretty big, to judge by the frenzy over cadmium in jewelry. Seven Senators have sponsored a bill called the Safe Kids’ Jewelry Act. This law would ban the use of cadmium in kids’ jewelry. Is this “good”? I am not sure how to answer that. To my knowledge, no one has identified a single injury from cadmium in children’s jewelry. It is undeniable that cadmium is a bad element and has the potential to harm. Ergo, jewelry with cadmium is “bad”? I can imagine circumstances where cadmium in jewelry might hurt a child. Then again, if it were so dangerous, where are all the victims?

If this is going to be the new standard, whether a product MIGHT harm someone, I think we are cooked. Assuming that “prevention of possible injury” is to be used as the standard to evaluate products or components of products, let me ask a few questions to see if I understand the “new rules of the road”:

  • How certain must the prospect of injury be?
  • How specific must the circumstances of the prospective injury be?
  • Are we talking about probable injury (more than 50%) or possible injury (odds greater than 0%)? How are those odds to be measured – by unit sold, by contact, by owner, by year, by lifetime use? What’s “reasonable”? [Does anyone care what's reasonable?]
  • Are all things that could possibly injure a child now illegal on the same basis?
  • If the answer is yes, when will all those other products be banned and/or recalled? Is equity in the treatment of all products “important”?
  • If the answer is no, then where do we draw the line?
  • How relevant is it that no injuries have been reported?
  • How many incidents are required before we declare a product or substance illegal or recalled? How many newspaper articles, editorials or CEH lawsuits are required?
  • What responsibility do we have to be consistent in the administration of these rules?

Consistency, that’s important, don’t you think? If cadmium is now tacitly illegal because it might harm a child, do we have to make everything with the possibility of injury to children illegal?

Presumably, since no injuries to children from cadmium has been reported and the Washington Post confirms that doctors do not perceive cadmium as a serious risk (perhaps because it was not prevalent in house paint or in gasoline, hmmm), then anything with the same level of prospective risk would be illegal. That’s more or less everything from water to chicken bones to lead to ruthenium. [Pardon me, ruthenium, one of the world's most expensive and dangerous elements, is a-okay to include in children's products.] Why then aren’t we closing swimming pools which cause more than 250 deaths each year? What about water – you can drown in two inches of water. No more showers?

Is there something special about cadmium, besides that it has appeared in an Associated Press article?

The mania over the prevention of possible injury has turned the business environment into a feeding frenzy that will drive the business community down, down, down. Is that in anyone’s interest? Will we all be safer if we have nothing to buy?

Please consider that the House Energy and Commerce Committee has today weighed in on the Toyota recall. Yes, the same Henry Waxman who is torturing our industry has now turned his talons and sharp teeth on Toyota. Toyota enjoys one of the finest reputations for quality and service in the world. It is renowned as a business leader – and proactively took strong medicine in its gas pedal recall. This is not enough for the venomous Democrats who hate businesses. They need to dig deeper and perhaps damage Toyota enough to help GM and Chrysler, owned by the U.S. government and unions. Bringing the great low, that’s the new American way of the Democrats. It makes me SICK.

I want to close with a note about cows – did you know that cows are killers, too? Yes, they are – the New York Times reports:

“The image of cows as placid, gentle creatures is a city slicker’s fantasy, judging from an article, published on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reporting that about 20 people a year are killed by cows in the United States. In some cases, the cows actually attack humans — ramming them, knocking them down, goring them, trampling them and kicking them in the head — resulting in fatal injuries to the head and chest.”

COWS kill 20 people a year, cadmium has apparently killed ZERO. We are running pell-mell to ban cadmium from jewelry because a misguided newspaper article fueled panic. Are cows next? Should they be? If cadmium jewelry goes away and cows stay unregulated, will respect for our laws remain?

Respect for Congress, that’s another thing.

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CPSIA – What Constitutes "Safe"?

CPSIA – Tracking Labels Answer Received Today

The CPSC answered my letter of September 18 regarding tracking labels today. In a nutshell, my question was about how small businesses are supposed to ascertain “cohort information” from fungible products if we are permitted to not use lot markings. The answer to that question was not clear (to me) from the Tracking Labels Guidance.

In today’s response, the CPSC seems to indicate more flexibility than I had read into the Guidance. Tony Cook of the Office of General Counsel states: “Your letter suggests that the manufacturer lacks flexibility regarding information that must be ‘ascertainable’. As with the ‘marking’ requirement, the manufacturer’s reasonable judgment and consideration of the manufacturer’s particular circumstances, are guiding issues.” He carries on helpfully: “Without such an approach, an absolute requirement to have ascertainable all required information would in effect swallow the Commission’s considered course with respect to marking.” This is the conflict that motivated my concern.

On the other hand, Mr. Cook states “. . . what can be marked and what can be ascertainable are separate questions”. This is the rub, of course. This means that even if you can’t mark the item, you might still have to be able to ascertain the cohort information. How do you do that? Well, you can’t.

It all boils down to what is considered “reasonable judgment”. In fact, I have never found this a challenging standard to meet in our business but that was before there were huge penalties and possibly jail time to consider.

In an environment where the regulators want us to exercise sound judgment, there needs to be some recognition that the incentive to take the risk of exercising judgment only makes sense when that judgment is PROTECTED. No one wants to risk huge fines for doing their job (or let their teammates incur this risk). Thus, I think the CPSC needs to look at the question about ascertainability again. The CPSC needs to say flat out that it will respect the judgment of manufacturers on how they determine which information, if any, can be ascertainable, as long as the decision on marking was deliberate, consistent and made on a good faith basis.

In the case of our business, tracking labels serve no particular purpose except to slow us down and waste our money. We have recalled 130 pieces since 1984 (out of an estimated one billion shipped, all units believed recovered) so the risk to consumers, at least thus far, seems controlled. I would like the authority to decide how much to spend on tracking labels and information retention/accessibility, based on my knowledge of our products, our market, our track record and our legal obligations. Then, if we exercise good faith and are reasonable and consistent in our approach to markings and cohort information, the CPSC should respect our decisions. thus, a failure to mark or ascertain would not be held against us unless our balancing of the equities is demonstrated to be unreasonable.

None of this would be necessary except for the ridiculous penalties and fines possible under the CPSIA. The indiscriminate manner of penalizing under the law makes minor issues (even inconsequential errors) into potentially serious problems. In addition, given that the CPSC recent practice of doling out penalties for long ago settled disputes, the long tail of 20-20 hindsight makes this dilemma particularly uncomfortable.

I appreciate the CPSC’s effort in replying to me, and look forward to working with them to bring more clarity to this very important point.

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CPSIA – Tracking Labels Answer Received Today

CPSIA – Nancy Nord Announces a Delay in the "15 Month Rule"

As hinted at in this space on Thursday, the CPSC is apparently going to delay the issuance of the so-called “15 Month Rule”. In Nancy Nord’s new blog, she provides the following important information:

“Periodic Testing – On a related issue, the CPSIA requires that we issue a rule setting out further testing requirements within 15 months of enactment (November, 2009). The agency will not meet that deadline in spite of best efforts to do so. This issue is extremely complex and we need additional input from the affected public before we give answers. The staff will hold workshops on December 10th and 11th to seek public participation. A Federal Register notice will be published with details about the workshop and will also provide details for those who wish to submit written comments. In addition, a draft “Guidance Document on Testing and Certification” will be discussed with the Commission at a public meeting on November 9th. See http://www.cpsc.gov for webcast details.” [Emphasis added]

This is good news for the business community on several levels. First of all, the CPSC is now communicating informally through at least one blog. While it increases the number of places to watch for legal developments, you can’t beat candor and openness. In addition, the CPSC is doing the considerate thing – giving advanced notice of a material event (the delay in this much-anticipated and much-feared rule). They are being nice, which is MUCH appreciated.

Finally, the Commission is being candid and admitting a small failure. [In fact, the admission is being done in a bi-partisan way, as Democrat Tenenbaum presumably consented to Republican Nord announcing this development in her new blog.] It is somewhat more complex than that, in fact. This is probably not best understood as a failure of the CPSC (although they are going to miss a date). They are CHOOSING to miss a date. Why? My guess is that they realize how important this rulemaking is, and are probably troubled by what the rule would look like under the (defective) CPSIA. It’s a public acknowledgement, the strongest in a long while, by the agency that it is genuinely troubled by the unintended consequences compelled by the new law. Withholding the 15 Month Rule is a sign of resistance against doing more damage in the marketplace.

The CPSC has heard from many stakeholders that this rule could be the final straw. I think it’s fair to assume that they do not want to do more damage. It is a bi-partisan worry, too – which is in the character of the CPSC over the years. They have not traditionally been the enemy of the business community, so it is nice to see them act with consideration again. Rumorville has it that the CPSC Staff could not find the magic words to make this rulemaking “work”. Good to admit it. There’s a lot implicit in that statement, most of it very good.

In my comment to the Nancy Nord blog, I ask the Commission to use the plain English meaning of the statute to make their decisions. If they cannot make a sensible decision using the plain English meaning of the words (e.g., does “any” mean “any” or not?), then the Commission should go to Congress and ask for an amendment. A statutory scheme based on twisting words into pretzels does not serve anyone’s interests. To understand our obligations, we go to the statute and read it. How can we run our businesses if there is a super-secret meaning to plain English words? Are we expected to master hundreds of pages of releases spread of months or years to discover the nugget explaining that “any” doesn’t mean “any”? This kind of treasure hunt inevitably fails. [If you like treasure hunts, see my recent blogpost on resale shops.]

Importantly, the CPSC has announced a two-day meeting on the 15 Month Rule on December 10/11. This is a critical meeting for all stakeholders. Please try to make it. I will be there.

Bottom line, this announcement is another gratefully-received sign of a shift in the wind. Let’s see whether more good follows in coming weeks. We now have more dots to connect. It would be wonderful to be able to trust the CPSC and the law again. Guys, please keep plugging away!

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CPSIA – Nancy Nord Announces a Delay in the "15 Month Rule"

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