By  on September 13, 2007

WASHINGTON — Sens. Mark Pryor (D., Ark.) and Daniel Inouye (D., Hawaii) introduced legislation Wednesday to overhaul the Consumer Product Safety Commission and provide more protection for imported children's products amid a growing debate over contaminated and defective Chinese imports.

Pryor detailed the bill at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, where senators questioned CPSC commissioners and top executives from Mattel Inc. and Toys 'R' Us about tainted toy recalls and the need for stricter testing, enforcement, standards and penalties for children's lead-paint toys and jewelry.

While the Congressional debate primarily has focused on Chinese imports of food and children's products, apparel importers are concerned the heightened attention on product safety may lead to stricter product safety regulations and requirements for all apparel, more scrutiny of cargo containers and the imposing of user fees on companies that import products from China.

The bill authorizes additional funding for the agency, which implements regulations on imported consumer products, including apparel and textiles. Apparel importers already must meet strict CPSC standards on flammability and drawstrings.

The legislation would make more funds available to the agency to increase staff levels to at least 500 employees by 2013, improve "antiquated" testing facilities and boost the number of CPSC agents at U.S. ports. It authorizes funding levels for seven years starting at $80 million in 2009 and increasing at a rate of 10 percent a year through 2015. Another $20 million would be set aside in the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years to upgrade labs, and $1 million would authorize research on safety of nanotechnology products.

Pryor said in a statement that he is concerned that the CPSC's abilities have "deteriorated" partly because staff levels have been reduced from 900 in the early Eighties to about 400 full-time employees.

The legislation also proposes increasing civil penalties to $250,000 per violation with a cap of $100 million, and raises criminal penalties to five years in jail for those who "knowingly and willingly" violate product safety laws. The measure also would make it illegal for retailers to sell recalled products, require independent safety certification on every children's product that enters the U.S. and require manufacturers to label children's products with tracking information to facilitate a recall.

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