The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was created in 1972 when Republican President Richard Nixon signed legislation creating the bureaucracy that has become in many respects the poster child for the Nanny State. Last year, another Republican President, George W. Bush, signed legislation (the “Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act”) that significantly increased the power of the CPSC. This federal regulatory and enforcement agency is now empowered to monitor even garage sales – just to make sure that some unknowing parent or enterprising school kid trying to make some extra money for a field trip, doesn’t try to sell a toy or household item that might have been previously subject to a federal recall.
Selling an item that has been subject to a recall by the federal authorities at some point in the [perhaps distant] past, carries with it criminal penalties. As the “CPSC Handbook for Resale Stores and Product Resellers” warns readers, “[i]gnorance of the law is not an excuse.” Not wishing to appear the Grinch that it is, the CPSC has has come up with a benign moniker for its latest enforcement effort – the “Resale Roundup.” Not only garage sales but internet sales are in the Commission’s gunsights.
The Commission, for example, maintains a separate unit to monitor internet sales to make sure no one tries — even inadvertently — to sell a previously recalled item on an internet auction or resale site.
For manufacturers and commercial retailers, the 2008 law imposes other, extremely costly mandates to test any items intended for children’s use, for even minute traces of lead on items clearly not intended to be or likely to be ingested, and for other previously lawful substances used in the manufacture of certain plastics and other products. Hence, parents looking for toys and other items to purchase for their children will find fewer products, and those that are still able to be lawfully sold, will be more expensive.
But for resellers, the expanded power of the safety Commission is proving especially problematic; and ultimately so for consumers. For example, organizations like Goodwill receive millions of items each year as charitable donations and then resell them in hundreds of retail outlets across the country. These non-profits lack the costly equipment that would be necessary to test every item intended for children that they take in and then resell. Thus, they are understandably taking the safe route and simply removing any and all items from their resale shelves that might possibly not have been fully tested according to the new legal requirements. For lower-income families, who might rely on the cheaper items available through resale at stores like Goodwill, removing significant numbers of items from the stores will hit them hard.
However, these shoppers should feel a sense of pride that they are participating in a patriotic mission to protect our nation’s young people from such horribly dangerous things as clothes with zippers or appliques (both included on the list of items best not to resale that is contained in the handy-dandy CPSC “Handbook”).
Don’t expect relief any time soon. The Administration of President Barack Obama has asked Congress to significantly increase the budget next year for the CPSC, so it can hire even more Toy Police.