Bill to Ensure Child Safe Products Could Cause Unintended Harm

April 14, 2010

“You can’t judge a book by its cover.” In legislative terms the saying goes more like “you can’t judge a bill by its title.” Each year, the General Assembly raises hundreds of bills and while the titles of many of these bills might sound worthy of anyone’s support, the fact of the matter is that legislation can be complicated and have unintended consequences if not looked at carefully.

Last week, the legislature’s General Law Committee took up HB 5130, An Act Concerning Child Safe Products. The bill is designed to phase out the use of certain chemicals in children’s products in Connecticut. It requires that officials from the state’s Departments of Consumer Protection, Public Health and Environmental Protection establish a list of at least five undetermined chemicals that are “of high concern to children’s health and development.” It also prohibits any manufacturer or distributor from knowingly selling or giving away any product that contains a chemical on the list.

On its face, any bill that suggests children will be protected usually has good intentions and this bill is no different. However, the bill as written gives a substantial amount of power and authority to state agencies that do not have the expertise to determine not only the overall health ramifications of banning certain chemicals, but the economic factors as well.

Last year, the legislature passed a bill (that I co-sponsored) which prohibits the use of the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) in all children’s products and food products. BPA is a compound that has been used to manufacture plastics commonly found in toys, bottles and a host of other household products. The effort to ban BPA in Connecticut was done through the legislative process and brought together many different interests. Leading experts from the public health community, businesses leaders, educators and parents all played a role in providing information to lawmakers about BPA and the effects a ban on the substance would have in our state.

HB 5130 does none of that. If it were to become law, the bill would take away all legislative oversight from the entire process. This means that all authority to regulate and phase out products would come from a bureaucratic entity instead of an open and transparent process that the legislature provides.

Opposing the bill does not in any way mean that dangerous products will be sold and manufactured in Connecticut. The BPA bill garnered such a wide array of support because people became educated as to the dangers it posed and the same process should be used when determining if other products warrant such a ban.

I am 100% in favor of making sure all dangerous chemicals are removed from children’s products because nothing is more important than the public’s safety and well-being. But leaving these decisions in the hands of small group of people is troublesome.

For instance, what if the body making these decisions placed chlorine on the list? First of all, Connecticut would become the first state to do such a thing, but it also would be a huge blow to many industries, especially the pool industry, and consumers in the state. If the product is deemed dangerous the legislature could still regulate or ban the product the way it did with the BPA. That is why the legislature should have a say in the process.

Any decision to ban products in Connecticut should be done piecemeal in a forum that allows for proper oversight. This way we can assure not only the safety of our children by shielding them from potentially dangerous products, but also make sure businesses and consumers aren’t subject to additional regulations that may be unnecessary.

For more information about issues surrounding child safe products, please contact me at [email protected].