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Policy Matters – Government Relations

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HFA calls for mandatory stability standard

The Home Furnishings Association is urging the Consumer Products Safety Commission to pursue expedited rulemaking to achieve a rigorous safety standard for clothing storage furniture stability.

“Your agency has documented the dangers associated with accidental tip-overs of bedroom dressers, chests of drawers and similar units,” HFA CEO Sharron Bradley wrote in a letter to CPSC Acting Chairwoman Ann Marie Buerkle (center in photo above, flanked by other commissioners) today. “The time has come to take decisive action.”

As the leading trade association for furniture retailers in the United States, HFA has supported CPSC’s “Anchor It!” campaign since it was launched, “and we pledge to continue to make our members aware of the need to inform customers that they should anchor clothing storage furniture to secure surfaces to prevent tip-overs,” Bradley wrote. “Many consumers still leave furniture stores, or order furniture online for home delivery, with little knowledge of the potential hazards or the urgency of placing clothing storage units safely in their children’s bedrooms.

“At the same time,” Bradley continued, “we recognize the importance of ensuring that every piece of furniture sold in our members’ stores is designed and built for safety and stability. We heeded your agency’s letter of February 27, 2019, advising retailers not to sell any clothing storage units that don’t meet the ASTM safety standard, and we communicated to our members the gravity of this warning. Our members take this responsibility seriously. Some incorporate furniture stability into their own safety programs, and some conduct their own stability testing under the auspices of UL’s stability verification program.

Mandatory standard will create certainty

“Yet, we must also point to the difficulties some of our members encounter as they seek to serve their customers’ desire to purchase home furnishings products at affordable prices,” Bradley wrote. “It isn’t always easy to know with certainty whether a chest or dresser truly meets the ASTM standard. As long as compliance is voluntary, much of the product available from manufacturers or other sources may be less sturdy than it should be. Lacking the expertise to carry out their own testing, some of our members may be unaware that a product they offer for sale might not pass a stability test under the ASTM standard. While all retailers should instruct customers to anchor these units in place at home, chests and dressers should be stable and secured with proper restraining devices.”

The Home Furnishings Association holds a seat on ASTM’s Furniture Safety subcommittee and voted in April in favor of a revision to include additional clothing storage units within the scope of the voluntary safety standard. HFA voted against other proposed revisions to increase the weight used in stability testing, because protocols for mandatory testing should be determined by CPSC’s staff of technical experts working with child-safety advocates and engineering professionals in the home furnishings industry. The standard must be sound, effective and feasible.

The appropriate standard is also under debate in Congress, but the right body entrusted by law to address critical consumer safety matters is the CPSC, Bradley wrote. “That is why we are counting on the Commission to move beyond ASTM’s voluntary standard and the congressional debates. … Our members want to know that every clothing storage unit they sell is verified to be as safe as it can practically be made.”

‘As one grandmother to another’

In her letter, Bradley also addressed Buerkle on a personal level, writing, “As one grandmother to another, I will tell you that it grieves me to my core every time I hear of a terrible accident involving a piece of furniture that injures or claims the life of a child. I hope I never hear of another, and I’m sure you feel just as I do. So do the members of the HFA, most of whom run small businesses selling furniture to their friends and neighbors. It isn’t just a black mark on our industry when a chest or dresser falls over onto a child; if the furniture was sold by a member of our association to a family in his or her community, the tragedy would be personal and forever painful.”

Bradley concluded with a hopeful note, stating, “I’m confident we can prevent many of these accidents if we work together in these ways:

  • By setting and holding manufacturers to a strong and reasonable safety standard for furniture stability.
  • By selling compliant furniture with proper restraining devices and instructions for their effective use.
  • By making more Americans aware of tip-over dangers posed by furniture, whether it was recently purchased or has been part of their household for decades.”

The Home Furnishings Association soon will announce further efforts to reduce furniture tip-over dangers.

Doug Clark is content manager, government relations liaison and author of the Policy Matters blog for the Home Furnishings Association. He can be reached at 916-757-1167 or dclark@myhfa.org.

Photo of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker

Massachusetts delays paid leave program

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (above) and legislative leaders agreed June 11 to delay for three months the implementation of a payroll tax to fund a paid family and medical leave program for private-sector workers.

The payroll tax of 0.63 percent was set to take effect July 1, but the Republican governor and Democratic Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka agreed that more time is needed.

“To ensure businesses have adequate time to implement the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program, the House, Senate and Administration have agreed to adopt a three-month delay to the start of required contributions to the program,” they said in a statement.

The legislature responded by quickly passing a bill authorizing the delay. Baker signed the measure June 13.

Complex requirements

The program is complex. (Here’s some guidance from the Holland & Knight law firm.) Employers must hang posters notifying employees of program details and send separate written notices to every employee. They must compile a list of eligible employees and contract workers. If they have more than 25 eligible employees, they will be required to contribute to the state family and medical leave fund. And they must make allowances for employees who request leave for covered purposes, which include a medical crisis, the need to care for a sick or injured family member, the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child, or military service.

Employers may apply for exemptions if they offer private family and medical leave plans.

Generous benefits

Legislation creating the state program was signed by the governor a year ago. It provides generous benefits, as described by the National Law Review:

“Beginning in 2021, eligible employees will be allowed to take the following leave in a benefit year (defined as the 52-consecutive week period beginning on the Sunday preceding the first day the protected leave begins):

  • Up to 20 weeks of job-protected paid medical leave to care for their own serious health condition;
  • Up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid family leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition, to bond with the employee’s child during the first 12 months after the child’s birth or the first 12 months after the placement of the child for adoption or foster care with the employee, or because of any qualifying exigency arising out of an employee’s family member being active duty or notification of an impending call or order to be in the Armed Forces; and
  • Up to 26 weeks of job-protected paid family leave to care for a covered servicemember.”

Contact Doug Clark at 916-757-1167 or dclark@myhfa.org, and read the Policy Matters blog. 

Cargo Ships

No new taxes, or tariffs!

The Home Furnishings Association has joined 660 other U.S. businesses and trade associations asking President Donald Trump not to impose new taxes on products imported from China.

“We know firsthand that the additional tariffs will have a significant, negative, and long-term impact on American businesses, farmers, families, and the U.S. economy,” the letter to the president, sent June 13, said. “Broadly applied tariffs are not an effective tool to change China’s unfair trade practices. Tariffs are taxes paid directly by U.S. companies, including those listed below — not China.”

The letter was sent by Tariffs Hurt the Heartland, an umbrella organization of separate coalitions called Americans for Free Trade and Farmers for Free Trade. HFA belongs to Americans for Free Trade.

 “According to Trade Partnership Worldwide LLC, 25 percent tariffs on an additional $300 billion in imports (combined with the impact of already implemented tariffs and retaliation) would result in the loss of more than 2 million U.S. jobs, add more than $2,000 in costs for the average American family of four and reduce the value of U.S. GDP by 1.0 percent,” the letter said. “Furthermore, we have seen repeatedly that tariff increases and uncertainty around these trade negotiations have created turmoil in the markets, threatening our historic economic growth.

Keep negotiating

“Mr. President, we support your efforts to hold our trading partners accountable, level the playing field for American businesses, and forge enforceable trade agreements,” the letter said, adding the belief that those goals can be achieved without taxing Americans. “We urge your administration to get back to the negotiating table while working with our allies to develop global, enforceable solutions.

“An escalated trade war is not in the country’s best interest, and both sides will lose. We are counting on you to force a positive resolution that removes the current tariffs, fosters American competitiveness, grows our economy, and protects our workers and customers.”

Doug Clark writes HFA’s Policy Matters blog.

Photo of Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois

Hearing covers furniture tip-overs

A founder of Parents Against Tip-Overs pointed to common ground she shares with responsible furniture manufacturers and retailers during a congressional hearing June 13.

“The compliant industry folks want a mandatory standard,” Crystal Ellis told members of the House Consumer Protection and Commerce subcommittee. “It’s something we agree on. We just want it tougher.”

Ellis testified in support of the STURDY Act, introduced in April by the subcommittee chairwoman, Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois (photo above). The bill would direct the Consumer Products Safety Commission to set a mandatory safety standard for furniture stability – one that would be stricter than the current ASTM voluntary standard. STURDY stands for Stop Tip-Overs of Unstable, Risky Dressers on Youth.

June 13 would have been her son Camden’s seventh birthday, Ellis said. He died on Father’s Day five years ago when his dresser fell over as he tried to pull clothes from a drawer, trapping and suffocating him. She later started the parents’ group with others who lost children in similar accidents.

“Thank you, Ms. Ellis. I think you are an American hero, and I appreciate your testimony,” Schakowsky said.

The ASTM standard

The ASTM stability standard requires that empty clothing storage units stand upright when the top drawer is open and holding 50 pounds of weight. A proposal currently under consideration would increase the test weight to 60 pounds. The STURDY Act would lead to a mandatory 60-pound test and possibly even more rigorous testing.

The Home Furnishings Association and the American Home Furnishings Alliance, an association of manufacturers, support a mandatory standard with precise requirements to be determined by safety experts.

“AHFA welcomes and supports the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recent moves to expedite a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for a mandatory furniture stability standard under Sections 7 and 9 of the Consumer Product Safety Act,” AHFA said in a statement submitted to the congressional subcommittee June 13. “AHFA believes CPSC should expend the necessary resources on this effort in 2019-2020 to ensure the goal is met.”

Collaboration needed

AHFA also asserted that “CPSC and its staff of consumer safety technical experts, working in collaboration with child safety advocates and technical experts from the home furnishings industry, are best equipped to identify the requirements of an effective mandatory standard.”

In her testimony, Ellis contended the current ASTM standard isn’t strong enough. She also said that, before her son’s accident, “I had no idea that this was a danger in my home.”

William Wallace, manager of home and safety policy for Consumer Reports, also called for a stronger standard but noted that “only 27 percent of Americans had anchored furniture in their homes,” according to a CR survey. He said that anchoring furniture is the surest way to prevent tip-overs.

These statements argue for the need to increase public awareness about potential tip-over hazards – not just for customers purchasing new furniture but among all Americans who have old dressers and chests that might pose even greater risks.

Retailers have a role

The subcommittee hearing demonstrated that there is a desire for legislative and regulatory activity but didn’t settle on specific solutions. Conclusions that HFA members could draw is that, as CPSC already has warned, they should sell only units that meet ASTM safety standards; that they should make their customers aware of potential hazards and counsel them to secure furniture with appropriate anchoring devices; and that they should expect more changes to come.

Doug Clark is content manager and government relations liaison for the Home Furnishings Association. Contact him at 916-757-1167 or dclark@myhfa.org, and follow his Policy Matters blog.

California Capitol

California considers CCPA changes

The California Consumer Privacy Act is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, but legislators are still making changes that can affect Home Furnishings Association members in the Golden State.

There’s positive movement on some fronts. AB 846, addressing customer loyalty programs, passed the Assembly by a vote of 50-1 on May 28. It would strike out a provision in the law that bars retailers from charging customers more if they ask to have their personal data deleted. Under the law’s definitions, that could apply to purchasing history or other information used in loyalty programs that reward regular customers with special deals or other benefits.

“As amended, the bill would add language to the CCPA confirming that a business may charge higher prices or provide a lower level of service to a consumer who exercises rights under the Act, provided that the differential treatment is reasonably related to the value provided to the business by the customer’s data, or is in connection with the customer’s voluntary participation in a loyalty, rewards or discount program,” reports Ashley L. Shively of Holland & Knight, an international law firm with California offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

AB 846 is waiting for action in the Senate.

AB 25, which passed the Assembly unanimously May 29, “clarifies that the definition of ‘consumer’ does not include job applicants, employees, agents of a business or contractors — defined as a natural person providing services to a business pursuant to a written contract — provided that the individual’s personal information is collected and used by the business solely in that context,” according to Shively.

Language in the CCPA would include employees, contractors and others in the category of “consumer,” allowing them to demand that their employers delete their personal information, including records of disciplinary actions. This correction also moves to the Senate for consideration.

Facial recognition requirements

AB 1281 “would require a brick-and-mortar business in California to disclose the use of facial recognition technology with a clear and conspicuous sign at the entrance of the location,” Shively reports. “A business that fails to comply with the provisions shall be liable for a civil penalty of up to $75 per violation but not to exceed $7,500 annually. The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary and Appropriations Committees.”

Facial recognition technology isn’t widely used yet in furniture retailing, but it is a tool that helps store managers provide positive personal experiences for recognized customers.

HFA members should contact their senators to express support or opposition to these bills.

Doug Clark is content manager and government relations liaison for the Home Furnishings Association. Contact him at 916-757-1167 or dclark@myhfa.org. Read his Policy Matters blog at https://myhfa.org/category/gov-rel/

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