Furniture bills gain committee OK

Photo: Rep. Cathy Rodgers (in red)

Legislation important to the furniture industry took another big step today. Bills approved by the House Energy & Commerce Committee include measures intended to prevent tip-over accidents and to restrict the use of chemical flame-retardants in upholstered furniture.

The Stop Tip-overs of Unsafe, Risky Dressers on Youth Act, or STURDY Act, gained what appeared to be unanimous approval on a voice vote after an amendment offered by Rep. Cathy Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) was adopted.

The amendment aligns the bill’s definition of clothing storage units with language in ASTM’s furniture stability safety standard, Rodgers said. It also will clarify that weight used in required stability tests will be 60 pounds to correspond to the weight of a 6-year-old child in the 95th percentile for their age as reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That can increase over time because, as Schakowsky said, “Children are getting heavier.”

The ASTM standard requires a clothing storage unit – such as a dresser or chest of drawers – to stand upright when empty with the top drawer fully opened and holding 50 pounds of weight.

Bill would require more rigorous tests

Not only would the STURDY Act set a heavier test weight, it would direct the Consumer Products Safety Commission to develop “objective, repeatable and measurable tests that simulate real-world use and account for any impact on clothing storage unit stability that may result from placement on carpeted surfaces, drawers with items in them, multiple open drawers or dynamic force.”

The result would be a much more rigorous mandatory standard than the voluntary guidelines published by ASTM, a private organization that sets safety and performance standards for a variety of industries.

The Home Furnishings Association supports the adoption of a mandatory standard so that retailers can be sure they’re selling safe products. It’s far from clear, however, how CPSC will interpret the legislative directive for testing protocols if the STURDY Act is passed by Congress as currently written and signed into law.

HFA urges retailers to make sure that customers have an opportunity to acquire tip restraints they can use to anchor furniture to fixed surfaces, which is the best protection against tip-overs if children pull or climb on dressers or chests.

But Rodgers expressed concerns about using a state technical bulletin as the foundation for national legislation, and Walden said there are uncertainties about CPSC’s ability to enforce the standard if it’s enacted. He expressed hope that changes can be made before the legislation advances to a vote by the full House, which is expected next week.

SOFFA also advances on voice vote

A second key bill is the Safer Occupancy Furniture Flammability Act, or SOFFA, which would create a national standard based on California Technical Bulletin 117-2013. That standard removed requirements that previously were satisfied by the use of flame-retardant chemicals, many of which have been associated with harmful health effects. If adopted, it would pre-empt what Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) called “an increasingly unmanageable patchwork of state laws” setting furniture flammability standards.

“I’m hopeful we can get the language worked out,” Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) said. “I know we agree on the policy.”

The HFA also agrees that SOFFA is preferable to inconsistent laws enacted or under consideration in more than a dozen states.

Both bills could be voted on by the full House next week.

Doug Clark writes HFA’s Policy Matters blog.

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