Congress will convene a formal conference committee as early as this week to hash out differences in House and Senate versions of consumer product safety legislation. Senate Majority Leader Reid said Tuesday he hopes the conference will wrap up by the end of next week.
Reid named conferees Tuesday evening. Democrats include Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Barbara Boxer of California and Commerce Chairman Daniel Inouye. Republicans named to the conference were Commerce ranking member Ted Stevens and Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and John Sununu of New Hampshire.
The House might appoint conferees this week as well, a House staffer said. Policy negotiations on the bills have not gotten under way, the staffer added.
The House passed its version of the measure at the end of last year, and the Senate followed suit March 6. House Energy and Commerce Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee ranking member Edward Whitfield, R-Ky., attributed a delay in naming conferees late last week to House Speaker Pelosi's desire to negotiate a bill closer to the Senate's version.
Pelosi has pushed for Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell to accept provisions in the Senate bill that consumer advocates consider stronger than the House-passed version.
Both chambers negotiated bipartisan compromises, but the Senate's prolonged talks ended in language preferred by consumer advocates and opposed by industry and the administration.
Both bills seek to boost the Consumer Product Safety Commission's funding and give the agency more authority to police consumer goods.
Consumer advocates are urging lawmakers to include whistleblower protections not in the House bill and more expansive powers for state attorneys general to enforce consumer product law in the Senate bill.
They also prefer Senate language that requires CPSC to create a consumer complaint database instead of, like the House bill, directing the agency to study whether to expand an existing database of hospital reports to include consumer complaints.
Industry groups and CPSC Acting Chairwoman Nancy Nord argue the whistleblower protections are unprecedented and the more expansive attorneys general authority will create a patchwork of state oversight. They also contend a consumer complaint database is too risky because the complaints are not vetted.
This article appears in the May 3, 2008, edition of NJ Daily.