Peapods owner helps a toy-testing reform bill pass Congress

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While federal lawmakers battled over the debt ceiling this summer, a toy manufacturing reform bill championed by a local merchant quietly passed in Congress almost unanimously.

Dan Marshall, owner of PeaPods Natural Toy and Baby Care at 2290 Como Ave., is credited with getting the bill passed, which will ease some of the requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), a law that lumped manufacturers large and small with heavy inspection requirements.

CPSIA mandated the same expensive third-party testing on all children’s products whether they are made in China in batches of 100,000 or in a home studio in batches of 10.

While well-intentioned, the law sent many businesses to near extinction, Marshall said. This “one-size-fits-all law” had already caused the closure of dozens of small businesses and was threatening to shutter more when several of its most costly provisions were set to take effect by the end of this year, Marshall said.

For the past three years, Marshall, president of the Handmade Toy Alliance, has been working to change aspects of the law and testified before Congress several times.

“Many [businesses] were starting to lose hope,” he said.

The reform measure was signed into law Aug. 12 by President Barak Obama. Only two of the 435 members of the House of Representatives voted against the bill, Marshall said, while the Senate passed it unanimously. Marshall credited U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar with exceptional effort to get the measure passed.

The updated measure strikes a careful balance, Marshall said. For instance, it requires the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to develop a new alternative-testing framework that would be economically viable for so-called small batch manufacturers, those with less than $1 million in annual sales. Additionally, only products made in quantities of fewer than 7,500 per year would qualify for alternative-testing under the new law. Some standards, such as the lead paint rule and the standard for metal in children’s jewelry, were not changed.

“These changes will significantly reduce the burdens imposed on struggling businesses while maintaining strong protections for our children,” Marshall said. “We simply cannot afford to lose jobs or stifle innovation because of questionable regulations, and I thank the president for signing this critically important bill into law.”

Marshall co-founded the Handmade Toy Alliance as a result of the initial legislation. The group represents small toymakers, children’s product manufacturers and independent retailers.

Peapods has eight employees and carries wooden toys, cloth diapers and organic clothing. Marshall said they avoid selling things like mass-market plastic toys and focus instead on more environmentally friendly items.

Harvey T. Rockwood is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.

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