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Bill aims to limit tainted imports; critics call it unnecessary

About 20 members of United Steel Workers District One picket outside Congressman Pat Tiberi's offices on Columbus north-east side. Most carried sings reading "Stop Toxic Imports" or "Act Now". And they handed out literature promoting the bill.

The legislation would extend regulations on companies bringing goods into the U.S. Customs would require companies hold a certificate confirming they have the money to cover the cost of a recall. The bill also allows the government to spenalize shippers who transport tainted goods.

The union's Donny Blatt says too many American jobs have been lost to companies who can operate cheaper and with less restrictions overseas.

"We're not opposed to free trade and making sure products come into this country; we just want to make sure it's fair trade," Blatt says. "We want to have an equal playing field with companies from India and China that are paying their workers 30 and 40 cents an hour. That's what's driving jobs out of this country."

Blatt says the steel workers aren't protesting Tiberi, or even his stance on the bill. It was only recently introduced in the House, and a Tiberi spokeswoman says the Congressman hasn't had time to review it. Blatt says they are calling for bi-partisan support, and Tiberi is a well-known local Republican. U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, wrote and introduced the bill late last year. He says too many goods are imported into the U.S. each year from countries with sub-par safety and human rights standards.

"We import them into this country after the President has weakened our inspection system, so too many toxic toys end up in our kids' play rooms and too much contaminated food ends up on our dining room tables and breakfast tables," Brown says.

While some Republicans say they see the need for stricter safety standards, they see Brown's bill as political posturing. Marc Kilmer is a policy analyst with the Buckeye Institute.

"It doesn't seem that this bill was written in a way that it's actually going to become legislation," Kilmer says. "It seems more like a symbolic statement by Senator Brown. And with these bills that are written for symbolic purposes, you often see that if they would become law there are a lot of people that would be harmed by unintended consequences because they're pretty sloppily written."

And, like most Conservatives, Kilmer says he has concerns about increased government intervention in commerce.

"Our economy does better when consumers have the ability to buy goods and services from manufacturers in the U.S. and overseas," Kilmer says. "It creates jobs and gives people better value for their money. Restricting imports is really a way to harm our economy."

Kilmer says he also has concerns with shippers becoming innocent victims by unknowingly hauling tainted goods. But Senator Brown says shippers have a responsibility to inspect and screen their loads, and should face sanctions for delivering faulty products. The bill covers most food products, including meat, poultry and eggs, as well as many prescription drugs and cosmetics. It remains in the Senate, where it sits before a committee. Brown says he hopes to have it ready for a vote as soon as possible, although he doesn't have a timetable.