Durbin Pushes Safety Regulation Aiding Illinois Company

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), according to a Senate staffer working on the issue, has inserted into a consumer safety bill a regulation regarding garage doors that would benefit an Illinois manufacturer, upending newly-issued federal safety standards.

The provision of the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act would tighten regulations on the safety features that keep automatic garage doors from crushing people. Where pressure sensors or other devices meet recently updated federal standards, this bill would require that a non-contact device–such as an infra-red “electric eye” — be used.
Illinois garage door manufacturer, the Chamberlain Group — whose parent company contributed $7,750 to Durbin’s last reelection — has retained law firm Akin Gump to lobby for this measure, while standard-setting non-profit Underwriters Laboratories is lobbying against the provision.

In the wake of last year’s revelations about excessive lead paint on children’s toys, Democrats in Congress pushed a bill tightening safety regulations and overhauling the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). As this bill moved through the Commerce Committee, a Senate staffer working on this bill tells HUMAN EVENTS, Chamberlain’s lobbyists contacted Durbin to request the provision be inserted. Upon Durbin’s request, this staffer says, Consumer Affairs subcommittee chairman Sen. Mark Pryor (D.-Ark.) inserted the provision into the manager’s amendment — the substitute bill introduced on the floor.

Current regulations from the CPSC require all automatic garage doors include at least two safety devices to prevent people from being crushed under the door. The primary “entrapment protection device” is part of the motor, and typically stops or reverses if it senses the motor is slowing down. Durbin’s regulation would change rules about the secondary entrapment device. Secondary devices on garage doors, under current regulations, can include: pressure-sensitive switches which reverse when encountering pressure; additional sensors in the motor; or infra-red electric-eyes, which stop or reverse the door when a stream of infra-red light is interrupted.

The electric-eye’s advantage is that it can prevent the door from hitting a person, animal, or car, while other devices aren’t triggered until contact is made. The garage-door provision of the CPSC bill would require that the secondary entrapment protection device “not require contact with a person or object for the garage door to reverse.”

Law firm Akin Gump is lobbying for this provision on behalf of Chamberlain, an Illinois company that makes garage doors. A staffer working on this bill told Human Events that Akin Gump’s lobbyists credited Durbin with convincing Pryor to insert the provision into the bill. Chamberlain holds multiple patents relating to electric-eye technology and a registered trademark on “The Protector System,” the electric-eye device they include with the garage doors they sell in the U.S. In effect, the Durbin language would mandate the electric eye.

While in some ways superior to pressure devices, electric eyes have their downsides. For one, the infra-red transmitter and receiver need to be perfectly aligned, adding to difficulty for builders and disabling the system if it gets knocked out of alignment. Also, mandating one class of device — non-contact ones — runs the risk of stultifying technological advances.

Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a non-profit recognized by the federal government for testing products and setting safety standards, is opposing the measure. UL argues that a bill dictating safety standards in detail subverts the standard process for crafting safety regulations, which usually involves scientists, industry representatives, and other “stakeholders.” UL recently issued new standards, which were incorporated into CPSC requirements last year, calling for “entrapment protection devices,” but not specifying non-contact devices.

Chamberlain, at odds with most of its competitors, is lobbying hard for the bill, arguing that UL’s recent standards will reduce safety.

Chamberlain is owned by Duchossois Industries, a $2 billion family-owned company also based in Illinois. Duchossois’ political action committee, according to a review of FEC records, gave $7,750 to Durbin’s last reelection campaign, in 2002. By the end of 2007, neither the PACs nor the employees of Duchossois nor Chamberlain had given money to Durbin’s 2008 campaign.

Sean O’Shea, one of the Akin Gump lobbyists working for Chamberlain on the garage door issue, donated $1,000 to Durbin’s campaign last summer.

Durbin’s office has not responded to calls requesting comment on the issue.