For two days now, the country has been a safer place for our children as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) has been in force since being passed and signed into law by President Bush last summer. This new law requires that all items sold to children twelve and under be tested for lead and phthalates, and if those items do not meet the limits of parts per million (limits which will be drastically increased within a few months), then the item may not be sold, or even donated to charity. Small businesses and charities must also comply with these restrictions or face stiff fines and even a prison sentence. The cost of testing each unique item is so onerous to those who deal in used children’s book selling and who have home businesses, and the cost of being prosecuted for not being in compliance with this law is so high, that many are closing shop and giving up. Even libraries and thrift stores have indicated they do not have the resources to meet these restrictions and thus will discontinue making children’s items available. This is a major blow to those who have relied on such resources for obtaining low-cost clothing, toys, and books for their families.
There have been many confusing and conflicting statements regarding the scope of this law and how it will be enforced. While there have been some assurances that small businesses which do not knowingly sell items with unacceptable amounts of lead and phthalates will not be prosecuted, such assurances from government bureaucrats, when those exemptions are not written into the law, do not encourage those who wonder if they might be the guinea pig for selective enforcement of this overreaching law. Sadly, even the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), whose experience with such selective enforcement in the realm of home education ought to cause them to know better, offered some hollow head-patting to those who have written them with concerns. While it’s nice to know that in their meeting with Commissioner Thomas Moore they were given some verbal assurance that the CPSC has no intention of going after cottage industries (”Historically, we havenâ€™t gone after these kinds of businesses,â€ he told HSLDA, â€œnot cottage industries”), many are not willing to stake their livelihood and freedom on such flimsy stuff.
As I write, precious and collectible children’s books are being dumped and destroyed because of this broad-brush nanny state intrusion. This is unacceptable at so many levels. During a time when families are suffering because of government bungling causing major economic disruption, a significant resource for providing income as well as necessary supplies to those families has now virtually disappeared. In addition, the arbitrary policy of this law to place specific restrictions on children’s books published prior to 1985 is appalling to those of us who know how insipid the content of most modern children’s literature is, and who prefer to provide older books, many of which are now out of print, for our children’s education and training. Who would have thought that overnight such material in our “free” country would become contraband and difficult to acquire? If I were into conspiracy theories (you can decide for yourself if I am), I might wonder if it was also a deliberate attempt to control the content of what we are able to teach our children as the noose tightens and the means to give them a quality, low-cost home education is now hampered? I would think that would be of grave concern to HSLDA.
Valerie Jacobsen, who more than anyone is responsible for my knowledge of good children’s books, and whose livelihood will be significantly affected by CPSIA, is writing extensively about this issue at Bookroom Blog. She wryly pays homage to George Orwell because of the “bright line” drawn for “acceptable” books published after 1985:
Dear Mr. Orwell,
Childrenâ€™s books were invented after 1984.
Before 1985, there was no Dick. There was no Jane. There was no McGuffy. No boy named Tom painted a fence, â€˜Anneâ€™ didnâ€™t end with an â€˜eâ€™, and no one had yet thought of putting â€pictures or conversationâ€ on paper for children.
In fact, children didnâ€™t learn to read in the old, old days before our Leaders saved us from our long, dark night. Back in 1984, there was only a dry wasteland of technical books, encyclopedias, service manuals, and other books for adults.
How thankful we are that times have changed so that children can learn to read and have their own books! We owe a great debt to the Great Changeâ€“and to Henry Waxman and Bobby Rush who accomplished it!
And we remember the Honorable Thomas Hill Moore, who worked for themâ€¦.
She also notes that Commissioner Moore, whose verbal reassurances were passed on by HSLDA, stated that children’s books published before 1985 should be “sequestered” and kept from children. I’m sure we are all glad we live in a place where there is such concern for the health and safety of our little ones. I may have to put some yellow crime scene tape over the children’s section of my own home library in order to protect my at-risk children. Big Brother knows what they need.
Note: Valerie has helpfully given information about who to contact in Washington, D.C. to protest this craziness, and to exercise belligerently our right to say what we think about it. Let’s make some calls.