Tighter lead-product limits advance

Bill that matches House measure faces a final Senate vote

General Assembly

April 05, 2008|By Gadi Dechter and Timothy B. Wheeler | Gadi Dechter and Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporters

The Senate voted yesterday to strengthen pending restrictions on products that contain lead, matching a bill that has passed the House of Delegates.

Sens. Bobby A. Zirkin and Lisa A. Gladden, both Democrats from the Baltimore area, persuaded their colleagues to reject a version of the bill Zirkin said had been weakened in the Finance Committee at the "11th hour" at the urging of toy industry lobbyists.

"It's incomprehensible to me at a time of millions of recalls" of lead-containing toys "why we would want to water down this legislation," Zirkin said before the 30-16 vote accepting his amendments.

Julie Livingston, spokeswoman for the Toy Industry Association, issued a statement after yesterday's vote warning that if it passes as it is now, the bill "could ban many educational and fun toys Maryland children have played with safely for years."

The legislation faces a final vote in the Senate.

The House version, passed 132-4, would ban jewelry, toys or other children's products in Maryland containing toxic lead.

As amended by the Senate Finance Committee, the bill would have delayed any action for more than a year and also would have been superceded by any standards the federal government might adopt, even if they were less stringent than Maryland's.

Maryland is one of a handful of states considering lead-products bans after revelations last year that some imported toys were coated with lead paint or contained lead in metal parts. Congress also is pondering new limits.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, defended the finance panel's amendments as making the bill more practical. "This is not an attempt to water down anything," she said. "We're thinking about workability."

Livingston said toy manufacturers will be unable to meet the bill's July 1 deadline for providing certification that products sold in Maryland do not contain lead.

Toys are generally manufactured a year before they reach retailers' shelves, said Joan Lawrence, vice president for standards and government affairs for the association. Toy makers contend that national regulations would ensure better safety for children's products, and they point out that Congress is nearing final approval of broad reform legislation.

But Zirkin's accusations that the Finance Committee had bowed to the pressure of industry lobbyists struck a chord with lawmakers, who said they were worried about cheap imports from China marketed to low-income consumers.

"Poor people ... don't have lobbyists," said Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat. "They have us."

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com timothy.wheeler@baltsun.com

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