Bedding makers rally vs. controversial Bill 603

Marvin Lazaro, July 27, 2001

Sacramento, CA — The possibility that bedding for sale in California should have to be fire retardant has raised questions from businesses throughout the home textiles industry.

Introduced by State Assemblyman John Dutra, 20th District, Assembly Bill 603 sailed through the State Assembly virtually unopposed and through the Senate by an overwhelming 28 - 5 vote on July 20. It states that if bedding is found to contribute to mattress fires by the California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (BHFTI), then it should be "resistant to an open flame." If the bill is signed into law by Governor Gray Davis, and he has 30 days to decide whether to do so, it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2004.

Despite the ease with which it passed through California's political system, the American Textiles Manufacturing Institute and Home Fashions Product Association, as well as the National Cotton Council, Manmade Fibers Association and non-affiliated businesses, such as WestPoint Stevens and Pillowtex Corp., are asking questions and raising issues about the proposed law.

The latest to join the fray was the Decorative Fabrics Association (DFA), whose president, Rosecrans Baldwin, said in a July 20 letter to Dutra's office, "The DFA, and Bergamo Fabrics specifically, are very concerned that these amendments may cause unintended and undesirable effects that could create significant risks for consumers and which would impose undue economic burdens on small companies such as those who are members of the DFA."

"I think Mr. Dutra's office may have been a little bit surprised by the amount and strength of the response he got when word of this got out," said Linwood Wright, chairman of the ATMI's Bed and Bath subcommittee, which, along with the HFPA, had asked its members to call, fax or e-mail Dutra.

"Our reaction was to immediately contact other people in the industry and find out how this came about and talk about what we could do," said Betty Turner, vp , public affairs for the Fort Mill, SC-based Springs Industries. "The industry is united on this topic."

"We are very, very concerned about this whole thing," said Bob Altbaier, senior vp, Loveland, OH-based Down Lite International, who added that he had tried to contact Dutra. "It was a total shock that this came up. And if in fact it does apply to down-filled bedding products it is going to cause us some hardship because our fabric is not flame-retardant treated, and it will reduce the hand and the appearance of the cotton."

According to Wright, it is 603's language, not its purpose, the associations are collectively fighting. The bill, he pointed out, was originally written to combat mattress fires but was amended to include the term "bedding." But there is no qualification or definition as to what makes up bedding contained within the language. Wright also wanted to know how the determination would be made which deems bedding to contribute to mattress fires, which is one of the bill's provisions.

"It doesn't provide significant guidance," Wright had told Home Textiles Today earlier, adding that what bedding means to one manufacturer or state, may not be what it means to a different manufacturer or state.

Turner added that while the industry generally supported Dutra's efforts in combating mattress fires, his good intentions may have an unintended consequence.

"I think it's taking things a little bit too far," said Keith Sorgeloos, president of the Atlanta-based Home Source International, about the bill and the amount of products and number of companies it may impact. "Obviously for the mattress to be fire retardant is critical, but the sheeting will be a difficult task, at best."

Leo Hollander, who is chairman and ceo of Hollander Home Fashions as well as the president of the American Down Association, dismissed the attention given to 603 as premature and without merit since the bill only gives the BHFTI the authority to study whether bedding contributes to mattress fires.

"We need to sit back a little bit and say to ourselves 'Where is this going?'" Hollander said. "I think everyone is getting all upset over something for which there has been no testing done whatsoever."

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