WASHINGTON - The Senate passed major consumer legislation Thursday that includes a ban on lead in toys as well as on industry-paid travel for employees of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Passage was a major goal for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who has made toy safety a signature issue of her first year in Congress and was a co-sponsor of the legislation.
The bill also calls for a public database of consumer complaints, adds to the safety commission's resources and sets new standards for safe toys.
Klobuchar was responsible for the provision that would effectively ban lead in toys; for labeling requirements to make it easier to determine when a toy has been recalled; and for a provision making it a crime to sell a toy that has been recalled.
She and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., also proposed the ban on safety commission employees' accepting travel paid for by the industries they regulate.
The bill, which passed 79 to 13, heads to a conference committee to work out differences with legislation the House passed in December.
Currently, there is no law requiring retailers to test toys. However, the three largest toy retailers -- Toys 'R' Us, Wal-Mart and Target -- hire third-party inspectors in China to test products for lead and choking hazards.
Klobuchar attributed the growing lead hazard in the United States to the explosion of toy imports from China. All 31 million toys that were recalled in the last 15 months came from China, she said.
Remembering Jarnell Brown
The legislation is in part a reaction to the death in February 2006 of young Jarnell Brown of Minneapolis.
"The reason it's so important in our state is that we had a little boy who died, a 4-year-old boy who swallowed a charm" that came with a new pair of tennis shoes, Klobuchar said on the Senate floor. "And he didn't die from choking on the charm. ... He died as the lead went into his bloodstream day after day after day. And when that charm was tested, it was 99 percent lead. It was from China ... and his own blood level when he died was three times the normal amount of lead."
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., congratulated Klobuchar. "I'll give a little pat on the back for my colleague Amy Klobuchar, we're moving forward on the Consumer Product Safety Commission Act," he said. "Senator Klobuchar is a big champion and worked real hard on this issue."
The bill would nearly double the agency's budget and increase its staff. The new database would collect information from various sources about injuries, illnesses and deaths from consumer products.
After the vote, Klobuchar said she viewed the bill as one of the most significant initiatives she has worked on: "While there are other arguably weightier topics -- the war, the environment and the economy -- this is certainly, because of my place on the Commerce Committee and a first-year senator, a very important thing to be able to work on."
Kevin Diaz and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Conrad Wilson • 202-408-2723