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Future State Toxic Toys Laws to Be Preempted Under Federal Consumer Protection Legislation

Future State Toxic Toys Laws to Be Preempted Under Federal Consumer Protection Legislation

Thursday, July 31, 2008

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Increasing-Democracy

Future State Toxic Toys Laws to Be Preempted Under Federal Consumer Protection Legislation

Consumer and safety groups are rightly applauding an agreement by House and Senate lawmakers to move forward a bill which bans lead and most phthalates -- ? plastic chemicals that can cause developmental disorders -- in most children's products.  The bill, already approved by the U.S. House, will also increase funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, strengthen testing standards, and enhance public access to product safety information.

There is little question that the proliferation of state laws that passed this year banning toxic toys played a key role in industry leaders deciding to make concessions over the bill.   Unfortunately, one key concession that industry demanded, and got, in the negotiations is preemption of new state laws protecting consumer safety.  While state Attorneys General will have a role in enforcing the new federal law in the courts, states will largely be barred from enacting new rules to protect the public that are stricter than the federal standards, a point that industry spokespeople emphasized in their support for the bill:

A single set of national standards was "the framework we were looking for," said Carter Keithley, president of the Toy Industry Association ... E.R. Anderson, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman in Washington, called the legislation "a good bill, in our estimation." She added, "We are very pleased that this bill acknowledges that 50 separate state standards is unworkable and inefficient."

While the new proposed bill is a considerable improvement over existing consumer protections, the danger is that when new public health dangers are found in the future, if the federal agencies refuse to act, there will be little ability for the states to step in and be a check on federal inaction. 

This is part of a pattern of Congress voting over 57 times in the previous five years to preempt state laws.  As we saw with the subprime mortgage debacle, federal laws designed to protect consumers have often been used instead to stop stronger state laws, so progressives should be wary of federal compromises such as this one that cripple state authority. 

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Valuing-Families

California is First State to Ban Artery-Clogging Trans Fats

With Governor Schwarzenegger's approval of AB 97, California became the first state to ban the use of trans fats in food preparation at restaurants and bakeries, achieving a key public health goal.  Trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, are used in numerous prepared and packaged foods like French fries, margarines, crackers, and doughnuts.  Trans fats significantly increase consumers' risk of heart disease by spiking so-called bad cholesterol and decreasing good cholesterol.  Several cities, including New York City, preceded California with their own bans, but the California action will increase the likelihood that other states will follow suit.  Under the California law, restaurants must discontinue their use of trans fats by 2010 and bakeries must comply by 2011; fines will range from $25 to $1,000.  Packaged foods are exempt.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, eliminating trans fats from the US food supply would prevent 6% to 19% of heart attacks and related deaths each year.  The public strongly supports this public health measure.  A 2008 Zogby poll found that more than 7 of 10 New York voters want a statewide ban on partially hydrogenated oils, which are the only source of trans-fats.  Partially hydrogenated oils are popular in food preparation because they help preserve taste and shelf-life.  However, there are ample alternatives available, like canola oil; and, the transition to healthier oils is already occurring with little difficulty in New York City, where over 10,000 restaurants have made the switch, and in other cities like Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia.  Many fast food chains, including McDonald's, Wendy's, and KFC, have already begun eliminating trans fats from their foods, either voluntarily or because of lawsuits by consumer groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

As we have written previously, eliminating trans fats has broader implications for eliminating health disparities.  Low-income neighborhoods and communities of color have higher rates of obesity and higher rates of death due to diabetes and heart disease.  These and other health disparities are exacerbated by the lack of access to healthy food choices in low-income communities, where fast food options and packaged foods - and therefore trans fats - proliferate.  This led the Los Angeles City Council to approve a one-year moratorium on new fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles, in a bid to attract restaurants that serve healthier food.

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Strengthening-Communities

Update: Communities Adding Vacant Property Fees on Foreclosed Properties

At the beginning of the year, PSN highlighted a number of steps states and communities could take to ease the foreclosure crisis.  At the time, a few communities had adopted what we called "You Foreclose on it, You Maintain it" policies to prevent banks and others taking control of properties from letting homes decay, bringing down community property values for remaining property owners.

As a Wall Street Journal article this week details, more than sixty communities are adopting similar policies, including stiff fees on companies responsible for vacact properties.  California has passed the toughest law in this regard, empowering local governments to impose a $1,000-a-day fine on financial institutions that fail to maintain vacant properties if problems aren't fixed within 14 days.

The new law allows cities "to go in, abate the problem and tack [the cost] on to the tax bill" without having to enact a local ordinance, said California state Sen. Don Perata, the bill's sponsor.

Providence, R.I., enacted a "vacant property penalty" that allows the city to assess a fine equal to 10% of assessed property value if a vacact property becomes a blight on the neighborhood.  Cincinnati has stepped up enforcement of its existing ordinance and collected about $192,000 in fees so far this year.

The key is that such policies not only help preserve communities but give lenders incentives to not foreclose in the first place, encouraging them to work out arrangements with the original owners who will then maintain the properties.

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Research Roundup

Highlighting the struggling situation of working families, the Center for American Progress has a new report on middle-class financial security indicators that show that after a rise in security for middle-class families in the 1990s, a steep decline set in after 2000 as families increasingly became vulnerable to unexpected medical emergencies and rising debt. A recent report by the Center also highlights stark racial disparities in economic wealth.

Unbalanced trade with China since 2001 has displaced 2.3 million jobs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as outlined in this economic snapshot by the Economic Policy Institute.

Defying the rhetoric of big business lobbies, a new survey of small businesses conducted by BALCONY and Small Business Majority in New York State finds that 55% of those businesses agree that small businesses have a responsibility to offer health insurance to their employees and a majority support requiring employers not providing insurance to pay to help employees afford insurance.

To highlight the need for family-friendly workplace policies such as paid sick days and paid leave, the 1000 Voices Archive provides video testimonials of the day-to-day struggles of families that can support passage of such policies. 

In To Be Strong Again: Renewing the Promise in Smaller Industrial Cities, PolicyLink highlights community-focused policies that are helping smaller industrial cities revive themselves and restore opportunity to their residents.

According to a new report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 27 states could save hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue if they eliminated from their own tax code a federal corporate tax break known as the "domestic production deduction," which mainly benefits large, profitable, corporations.

The Brennan Center for Justice has released three excellent reports on election reform issues.  Writing Reform is an invaluble guide for drafters of campaign finance reform legislation; Better Ballots covers how poor ballot design continues to disenfranchise voters almost a decade after the "butterfly ballot" fiasco in Florida and how to solve this under-appreciated problem; and A Citizen's Guide to Redistricting is "an owners' manual, for those who should own the process: we, the people."

The Democratic Leadership Council released an analysis of how gerrymandering reduces voter turnout in a dozen states by up to 9 million votes because of a lack of competitive elections.

A new report by the National Institute on Money in State Politics finds that since the 2000 election cycle, companies and associations representing the predatory financial services industry have contributed more than $10.2 million to state-level candidates and party committees in 41 states.

The Progressive Policy Institute has a new report, Stop Revolving-Door Justice, outlining how states can change corrections practices to reduce the country's sky high recidivism rates to save money by reducing the prison population.


Please email us leads on good research at research@progressivestates.org

Resources

Future State Toxic Toys Laws to Be Preempted under Federal Consumer Protection Legislation

Draft of Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act
Progressive States Network - The Predatory Lending Bubble and How the Feds Made it Worse
Progressive States Network - Industry Looks to Federal Rules to Preempt State Regulation
U.S. House - Minority Staff of Government Reform Committee - "Congressional Preemption of State Laws and Regulations"
NCSL - Preemption Monitor

California is First State to Ban Artery-Clogging Trans Fats

Progressive States Network - Banning Trans Fats in Restaurants
Center for Science in the Public Interest ”“ Q&A: Trans fat
Center for Science in the Public Interest - Trans Fat Fact Sheet
Policy Link - Healthy Food, Healthy Communities: Improving Access and Opportunities Through Food Retailing

Update: Communities Adding Vacant Property Fees on Foreclosed Properties

Progressive States Network - Dealing with the Foreclosure Crisis at the State Level
US Conference of Mayors - The Mortgage Crisis: Economic and Fiscal Implications for Metro Areas
Business Week - Dirty Deeds

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