Last year was a nightmare for American toy companies as millions of Chinese-produced toys - from Barbie doll accessories to Thomas the Tank Engine - were recalled.
Now Congress wants to overhaul the Consumer Product Safety Commission to make sure all toys and children's products purchased in the U.S. pose no health risks.
The Senate's bill would nearly double the CPSC's budget and increase its staff to nearly 500 people by 2013. Lawmakers could vote on the measure Thursday.
The bill would also ban lead from all children's products. It would establish a database of information from consumers, hospitals and other sources about the hazards associated with consumer products. More importantly, the proposal would give the public access to the database.
Two Versions of the Same Bill
Although there is agreement about the general need to step up the safety enforcement of children's toys, debate about the legislation continues.
The House in December passed its own version of the bill. However, the Senate bill is markedly different.
Where the Senate version proposes a database of product-related illnesses, the House proposed that the CPSC conduct a study on how to create a database.
Where the Senate version raises the civil penalty cap per violation from $8,000 to $250,000 and the limit for a related series of violations from $1.8 million to $20 million, the House version would raise the penalty limit to $10 million.
The White House and some Republicans oppose some of the tougher standards in the Senate bill.
Officials point out that passing two different versions of the same measure would require time to reconcile the differences and slow progress when the law is needed now.
The Bush administration issued a statement this week outlining a half-dozen provisions that cause it various levels of "concern."
The CPSC, it said, should enforce safety standards, not the attorneys general. And the new legal shields for whistleblowers "will cause a serious increase in the number of frivolous claims brought against employers," the statement said.
Parents: "Tougher Standards Now"
Many parents who have endured watching their children's lives threatened by poisoned toys want tougher standards in place as soon as possible.
Shelby Esses of Jacksonville, Ark., said a database like the one proposed in the Senate version might have sped up her son's diagnosis when he fell ill last fall. The day before Halloween, her son Jacob, 20 months, swallowed Chinese-made beads called Aqua Dots and passed out. He would regain consciousness long enough to vomit up the beads, and then go limp, she recalled.
He was unconcious for about six hours, Esses said, and then came to with apparently with no ill effects.
The CPSC ordered Aqua Dots off the store shelves.
Scientists say a chemical coating on the beads, when ingested, metabolizes into gamma hydroxy butyrate - the so-called date rape drug. The compound can induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death.
But initially, Esses couldn't find anything on the Internet or from the manufacturer about the ingredients of the beads.
"If there had been a database," she said, that would have "made treating him a lot easier."
Source: The Associated Press