Legislation passed by Congress last August in response to fears of lead-tainted toys imported from China went into effect last month. Consumer groups and safety advocates have praised it for its far-reaching protections. But libraries and book resellers such as Goodwill are worried about one small part of the law: a ban on distributing children’s books printed before 1985.
The libertarian legal writer Walter Olsen has been a critic of First Things and its projects, but he deserves enormous credit for his attempts to push this story, in a City Journal article this winter and on his blog, Overlawyered.
I confess that I thought he was crying wolf. But the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission just announced that the law does, in fact, prohibit the sale of even children’s items with rhinestones:
In written statements accompanying their July 16 decision, commissioners acknowledged that even though crystal and rhinestones exceed allowed lead limits they actually pose little health threat because the lead is bound to them on a molecular level and would be difficult to leach free even if swallowed.
But they said they could not grant an exemption because they are bound by the very specific language of the new product safety law.
The prohibited sales include, by the way, resale—so every used-clothing store and used-book shop in the nation is at risk of prosecution.
How did we get to this? The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was passed in a panic, a response to the news that lead-tainted toys were coming out of China. The bill was a grab-bag of items that advocates had wanted, as every consumer-safety group in the country saw a chance to use the panic to advance their agenda. As Rahm Emanuel said, “Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste.” And the result is an absurd, burdensome nightmare.
Can we learn a lesson here?