Saturday, October 31, 2009

A very busy day for the HTA and the CPSIA

After a full year of efforts trying to save their small businesses from the mandates of the CPSIA, the Handmade Toy Alliance met two important milestones on October 30.

First, assisted by Senator Merkley (OR), the HTA met via video conference with CPSC commissioners Inez Tenenbaum and Robert Adler, an aide to Senator Dodd (CT), and a team of about a dozen CPSC staffers to discuss policy actions to protect small batch children's product manufacturers.

Second, the New York Times reported for the first time on the CPSIA's impact on small businesses. A little handmade wooden airplane even found itself on the front page. The report focused on the HTA's efforts to convince congress to amend the CPSIA.

“It was a very busy day,” said HTA secretary Jill Chuckas, owner of Crafty Baby (CT). “In the morning we got the chance to tell the CPSC what we need. And then in the evening I found myself quoted in the New York Times.”

During the morning CPSC meeting, Commissioner Adler expressed a desire to protect small manufacturers as much as possible within the constrains of the CPSIA. Speaking about the difficulty small business have affording the testing required by the law, he said “You're the folks who keep us awake at night.” He also reiterated that “The CPSC did not write this law.”

The meeting centered on nine requests the HTA submitted to the CPSC, the most important of which would stay enforcement of testing requirements for another year so that the CPSC can finalize rule-making on a host of important issues. “Our goal is not to create loopholes in the law for unsafe products,” said Dan Marshall of Peapods Natural Toys (MN) “We just want to save our small businesses.”

In the Times article, titled “Burden of Safety Law Imperils Small Toymakers”, Nancy Cowles of the consumer group Kids in Danger was quoted as opposing the HTA's efforts to reform the CPSIA, claiming that big industry players “are not above using the small crafters to reopen the legislation and get the changes they want.”

“This is the absurd logic that we've been hearing for a long time,” said HTA board member Rob Wilson of Challenge & Fun (MA). “We are not agents for big companies. We have been highly critical of Mattel and other multinationals for their role in shaping the CPSIA in their favor. What Cowles is basically saying is that handcrafters and small batch manufacturers are closing their businesses as a favor to Mattel.”

“If Kids in Danger and other consumer groups would just respond to our repeated requests for dialog, I'm sure we could reach an understanding that serves both our interests,” said Marshall. “If they could have listened to our morning meeting with the CPSC, they would understand our desire to fix this law without compromising safety. Unfortunately, they seem more interested in protecting the status quo.”

The HTA's next steps are to include more meetings with the CPSC, which will hopefully lead to policy actions and the clarification of a number of issues. The HTA is also offering to help the CPSC reach out to small batch manufacturers.

“Even though we feel very encouraged by the CPSC's willingness to work with us, we need to keep in mind that their hands are tied on many issues,” said Wilson. “We need Congress to pass a technical amendment to the CPSIA, and we need Senator Pryor to begin that process with an open hearing in his Senate commerce committee."

In other coverage of the day's events, Walter Olson reacted to the NYTimes article in his Overlawyered blog, writing:

Okay, so the Times was — well, not a day late and a dollar short, but more like 300 days late and many billions of dollars in overlooked costs short. Still, let’s be grateful: the paper’s news side has now implicitly rebuked the editorial side’s fantastic, ideologically blinkered dismissal of “needless fears that the law could injure smaller enterprises”. And the Times’s belated acknowledgment of the story can serve as permission for other sectors of the media dependent on Times coverage — including some magazines and network news departments — to acknowledge at last the legitimacy of the story and begin according serious attention to the continuing CPSIA calamity.
We feel compelled to agree--by our count, the NYTimes was scooped at least 426 times on this story. But, better late than never. Now, let's fix the CPSIA!

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