May 12, 2011

'Kids Safe' bill finds bipartisan solution

After a rocky debate about chemicals early this year, both sides say modifications are a 'reasoned fine-tuning.'

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA - Business and environmental groups that were at odds over Maine's Kids Safe Products Act have reached agreement on a proposal to modify the law, which created a process for identifying and banning dangerous chemicals.

On Tuesday night, a legislative panel unanimously endorsed a bill that would narrow the scope of the law passed in 2008, which served as the framework for the recently passed ban on bisphenol-A in children's products such as baby bottles and sippy cups.

The measure was the product of a bipartisan compromise and blended elements of two bills, L.D. 1129, sponsored by state Rep. Jim Hamper, R-Oxford, and L.D. 1185, sponsored by Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond.

"I don't think a lot of people expected us to get to 'yes' and have a unanimous vote, when this started back in January with the dueling bills and with some of the rhetoric out there," said Ben Gilman of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. "But I'm just happy that we got here."

Gilman said both sides, as directed by leadership on the Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee, got together with lawmakers and negotiated a deal that was acceptable to everyone.

"Our goal was more certainty," he said.

Under the current law, more than 1,700 chemicals are on a watch list, even though many of them are already exempt from regulation. The new proposal would cap that list at 70 chemicals.

Gilman said he also was pleased with a more narrow definition of which consumer products can be regulated.

Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, said the amended bill is a "victory for common sense and children's health and a defeat for the national chemical industry."

"I give a lot of credit to the chamber of commerce," he said. "They did negotiate in good faith and they were reasonable and they didn't echo the hard-line positions that the chemical industry and these national industry trade associations were taking."

Belliveau said the legislation would provide more predictability and clarity for the business community, but preserve the regulatory teeth of the original law.

"It's a reasonable approach," he said. "If there's a company out there selling a product in Maine and intentionally adds a priority chemical, they are going to have to report the use of that chemical, and that's the way it should be."

"(L.D. 1129) was a rollback bill and it was turned into a reasoned fine-tuning and even a strengthening of the law, so we feel good about that," he said.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

rmetzler@mainetoday.com

 

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