LITTLE ROCK (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor's legislation that would make major changes to the consumer product safety law is getting closer to a Senate vote.
The bill, called the ''Consumer Product Safety Reform Act,'' cleared the Senate Commerce Committee in December, the same month the House passed its own version of the bill.
Pryor, D-Ark., managed debate this week on the legislation and introduced Shelby Esses of Jacksonville at a news conference, whose young son Jack fell ill after swallowing Aqua Dots. The toy was recalled.
Pryor's bill would increase civil penalties for companies that ship and sell dangerous goods; protect whistle blowers; create a public database on health problems possibly caused by store-bought items; give state attorneys general more say in policing product safety, and increase staffing for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Pryor said the commission has been unable to keep track of all the products coming in from outside the country.
''We all recognize accidents happen,'' he said. ''But it's not an accident when manufacturers use lead paint because it's cheaper. It's not an accident when a (product) recall takes months and months and even years.''
The bill would increase Consumer Product Safety Commission staffing to at least 500 employees by 2013, and raise the agency's annual budget from $62 million to $80 million in fiscal 2009 then increase it 10 percent a year for the next six years after that.
An amendment to the bill caps civil penalties at $10 million, with the option of additional fines of $10 million to repeat offenders. The current cap is $1.8 million.
The Bush administration and some Republicans oppose certain provisions of the bill. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, argued that giving state attorneys general an increased role would invite frivolous lawsuits. And Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said on the Senate floor Wednesday that stiffer penalties and greater protection for employees who question the safety of certain products would put U.S. manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage.
A spokesman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the retail giant based in Bentonville, said the company has begun to put in place certain safeguards of its own. For instance, Wal-Mart requires independent laboratory testing for products it sells.