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Bill Banning Toxic Chemicals in Toys Dies in Senate

House Bill 3162 dies with a raft of progressive legislation as the Legislature adjourns, drowned under the opposition of conservative Democrat, Sen. Betsy Johnson.
July 9, 2013


July 9, 2013 — This is how the legislative session ends; not with a bang, but with a whimper.

The Toxics Disclosure for Health Kids Act died on the session’s last day, Monday, with no vote ever taken in the Senate. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, sent House Bill 3162 to the Senate Rules Committee after a brief speech:

“This is an important bill disclosing toxics in children’s products but unfortunately it does not have the votes at this time,” Rosenbaum lamented as she signaled the bill’s defeat.

The toxics bill, which would have required the manufacturers of children’s products to disclose if their items had any of 19 toxic chemicals, and then work on replacing those chemicals with safer alternatives, had strong bipartisan support in the House, but lobbying by the American Chemistry Council against HB 3162 paid off as the session ended.

HB 3162 had a Republican supporter in the Senate, Sen. Brian Boquist of McMinnville, but Boquist told The Lund Report on Sunday that he pulled his support of the bill, and gave no further explanation.

“I think it was an innocent bystander of a lot of other negotiations at the end of the session,” Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, told The Lund Report, divining the bill’s failure. “It was a byproduct of a lot of toxicity at the end of the session.”

The toxics disclosure bill, which was modeled after similar laws on the books in Washington and California, still could have passed with full Democratic support, but when push came to shove, the party’s thin 16-14 majority proved illusory.

HB 3162, like several others at the end of session, died from the opposition of Sen. Betsy Johnson. The senator from Scappoose refused a request by The Lund Report to comment on her opposition.

Though a Democrat, Johnson is the daughter of a former Republican legislator and often joins forces with the Republican Party to derail progressive legislation.

Her opposition was elemental in the failure of bills across the progressive spectrum in the last week of the session. A bill that would have allowed the Department of Motor Vehicles to automatically register eligible drivers to vote failed by one vote. A bill that would have restored labor bargaining rights to fire captains failed by one vote. A bill that would have extended restrictions on carbon emissions in automobiles — originally implemented by Gov. Ted Kulongoski — also died, by one vote — Johnson’s.

Portland Democratic Sen. Chip Shields’ efforts to end the insurance industry’s unique exemption from the Unfair Trade Practices Act died, similar to HB 3162, in the Senate Rules Committee, in no small part by the opposition of Johnson, who also opposed Shields' efforts to reform the health insurance rate review process. Senate Bill 413, which would have held health insurers more accountable to the Insurance Division when seeking premium rate hikes was killed on the Senate floor after a speech by Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, who had the support of Johnson.

After the Senate killed HB 3162, Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, who helped craft HB 3162 with the Oregon Environmental Council, told The Lund Report she would not give up on its future passage and was headed to a national conference in Georgia this summer to learn how other states were eliminating toxics in consumer products.

“I’m gravely disappointed that we didn’t act on it,” Keny-Guyer said. “I’ll definitely bring it back up.”

The day before, Keny-Guyer gave even stronger words to The Lund Report, hoping the Senate would still call a vote.

“In my view, anyone who’s going to take a vote to not have the disclosure of harmful chemicals in children’s products is going to have to live with that vote on their conscience,” she said. “Washington’s already doing it.”

But after the fire captain and voter registration bills died in the Senate on Sunday, Steiner Hayward conceded: “I understand they didn’t want to run another bill that was going to fail.”

HB 3162 would have drawn attention to loopholes in federal laws that have cut down on some toxics like lead but ignored others like BPA, formaldehyde and cadmium.

The 2008 federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act bans lead and limits phthalates in children’s products. But Chinese toy manufacturers, who distribute millions of toys through large box stores like Wal-Mart, have taken the out the lead only to replace it with even more toxic cadmium.

The Centers for Disease Control lists cadmium as the 7th-most toxic substance in the environment, but there are no laws limiting its use in jewelry or children’s toys. The Washington law monitoring children’s products has shown that both Target and Wal-Mart stores sold products with cadmium-laced paint, although their self-reports put the levels at less than 100 parts per million.

A 2010 Associated Press study found cadmium at extremely high levels in some trinkets sold in America, up to 91 percent. The AP also disputed distributor’s claims that their products had only trace amounts of cadmium. One Disney toy with cadmium levels that was self-reported in the parts per million actually used paint that was 35 percent cadmium.

HB 3162 would have changed that, forcing manufacturers to phase out the element in five years.

Supporters of HB 3162, including the Oregon Environmental Council and Steiner Hayward, agreed to have the bill cut down, taking out the phase-out provision, thereby only requiring manufacturers to report their use of toxins — but even that was not enough to mollify opponents.

“It didn’t ask anything unreasonable,” Steiner Hayward said. “People who opposed this are in a position I don’t understand or agree with.”

Image for this story by Steven Depolo (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.

Christopher David Gray can be reached at [email protected].