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Consumers Are Winning on Product Safety in the Senate

by David Arkush

Here’s an update on the CPSC bill (S. 2663) on the Senate floor this week.  The short story is, consumers are doing very well in the Senate so far this week.  Here are some highlights:

  • On Tuesday, pro-consumer senators fought off the first attack on a strong CPSC bill: an attempt to replace the current Senate bill with weaker bill that passed the House in December.  You can view our comparison of the House and Senate bills here.  The attempt lost 57-39.  Not only did this stop a broad frontal assault on the Senate bill; it showed that opponents of the bill cannot muster the 40 votes they would need for any major blocking action.

  • Next, on Wednesday, the Senate defeated by a vote of 51-45 an amendment to weaken the bill’s attorney-general enforcement provision.  (The amendment was sponsored by Sen. Cornyn (R-TX).)  The attorney general provision in S. 2663 has drawn some of the strongest attacks from industry, the White House, and certain Senate Republicans because it would put more "cops on the beat" to enforce federal consumer product safety laws and recalls.  In light of the CPSC’s gross lack of resources and notoriously lax enforcement, the attorney general enforcement provision is a major improvement for consumer protection.
  • Immediately after the Senate rejected the Cornyn attorney general amendment, Senator Kyl (R-AZ) withdrew an amendment to strike whistleblower protections from the bill.  Like the attorney general provision, the whistleblower provision in S. 2663 offers strong new protections for consumers.  This provision would make it illegal for companies to punish employees who speak out about potential hazards or violations of safety rules.  By withdrawing this whistleblower amendment right after the defeat of the attorney general amendment, opponents of S. 2663 sent a clear signal that they are losing this fight, and they know it.
  • About an hour ago, the Senate rejected another attack on the attorney general provision — an amendment by Senator Vitter (R-LA) that would have added a "loser-pays" rule.  This amendment would have required state attorneys general seeking injunctions against safety violations to reimburse private businesses for their legal expenses if the injunction is not granted.  This type of loser-pays rule is virtually unprecedented in American law, and it had the potential to weaken attorney general enforcement severely.  State attorneys general are already over-burdened and under-resourced, and they would be far more hesitant to bring actions to enforce safety rules if they might have to pay a private company’s attorneys’ fees at the end of litigation.

It’s been a great week for consumers so far, and it might end in a Senate victory today!  Senate Democrats and their Republican allies on this bill — such as Senator Stevens (R-AK) — hope to pass the bill by the end of the day.