Home Furnishings Regulatory Issues to Watch in 2021

One of the more consequential impacts of the Trump Administration had been its focus on reducing federal regulation. The administration accomplished this through agency rulemaking and Executive Order; the Republican House and Senate participated via the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows for a simple majority vote in the Senate to disapprove and vacate regulations.

The Biden Administration will prioritize reversing some of these Trump Administration actions while focusing on a broader regulatory strategy to re-build the federal structure. Several potential regulations directly impact the overall home furnishings supply chain; manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, and consumers.

Upholstered Furniture Flammability

For decades, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has struggled to create a national standard for upholstered furniture flammability. Throughout this effort, the State of California implemented and maintained its state standard, known as Technical Bulletin (TB) 117. The regulation was updated in 2013 so that flame retardant (FR) chemicals are not needed to meet the standard.

As evidence emerged that these FR chemicals did not provide a balance between fire safety and health effects, an effort to ‘nationalize’ TB 117-2013 gained momentum. The recently passed congressional omnibus Appropriations bill was bipartisan language as part of the Safer Occupancy Furniture Flammability Act (SOFFA), which directs the CPSC to create a national standard based on the existing CA standard.

The timeline for this regulatory effort is approximately six months, and we will monitor the progress. The result will be greater certainty for the home furnishings industry and safer furniture for consumers.

Furniture Stability Standard

As part of its 2021 Operating Plan, the CPSC is directing staff to complete a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) on furniture tip-overs. This notice has been an ongoing project within the agency, but we expect the NPR release to be in late Q3 2021. The forthcoming proposal is likely to build on the current ASTM voluntary standard, which requires manufacturers to meet multiple conditions, including a 50-pound drawer tip-over test to be compliant.

There has been an increase in furniture tip-over recalls in recent months, although none of these recalls involved units that meet the current voluntary standard. These recalls have brought further scrutiny to the issue. They have also prompted various stakeholder groups to change the voluntary standard OR push CPSC to create a stricter mandatory standard. The areas to be examined include increasing the age/weight ratios (currently up to five years old and 50 pounds) and the types of test methods used to account for different flooring surfaces.

In the previous Congress, the House passed the STURDY Act, which would give CPSC the expedited authority to consider and finalize a furniture tip-over rule. The Senate did not pass it before the congressional session ended, so it would need to be re-introduced and reconsidered.

Another factor for tip-over will be the makeup of the CPSC. When fully operational, there are five CPSC Commissioners; currently, there is a 2-2 split between Republicans and Democrats. The two Democratic Commissioners, Acting Chairman Bob Adler and Commissioner Elliot Kaye have upcoming expiring terms. The expectation is that President Biden will nominate individuals with a strong consumer advocate background, which could increase the focus and urgency on the tip-over rulemaking effort. With Democrats now controlling a 50-50 Senate, they will have the ability to confirm Biden nominees more smoothly.

Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products

Early in the Obama Administration, legislation was passed creating a national standard for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the rule in December 2017, but an essential element of implementation, a March 2024 deadline for fabricators to switch their resin systems or comply with costly and burdensome testing requirements, remains a concern for the home furnishings industry.

In late 2020, EPA held a stakeholder roundtable to discuss a petition process established by the rule. A successful petition would provide an exemption from the potential testing requirements mentioned above. There are ongoing conversations with EPA, and those will continue under the Biden appointed leadership.

In the early days of the Biden Administration, there will be an urgency to overturn and rework the higher-profile regulatory actions of the Trump Administration. However, over the first term, many additional regulatory actions, including those mentioned above, impact the home furnishings industry and your business.

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