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Darts and laurels

Dart to the confusion over a new consumer safety law, taking effect today, that makes it illegal to sell children’s products containing more than 600 parts per million of lead. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, passed by Congress in 2008, has a worthy intent ó to keep children safe from toxic levels of lead by requiring that manufacturers test their products and banning the sale of uncertified items. But while it makes sense that manufacturers should have to test new products going forward, the law was so broadly written it appeared to apply to many innocuous children’s products already on shelves at stores across the country, including thrift and resale shops whose owners were left in limbo.
On Friday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued more details on its enforcement policy that may partially resolve the issue: In effect, it provides an exemption for the sale and distribution of children’s items made of natural products “that rarely, if ever, contain lead,” such as cotton, wool, wood, books printed after 1985 and some metals and alloys. The commission also said it will not prosecute someone for making or selling such items “even if it turns out that it contains more than 600 ppm lead” ó unless the manufacturer or seller knew beforehand that the item contained illegal amounts of lead.
This at least gives merchants more guidance while legislators and consumer advocates take another look at the law. Surely there’s a reasonable middle ground that can protect children without endangering lawful businesses.
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Laurels to the goal of clarifying Rowan County’s marketing message as it tries to attract new businesses and new jobs. Duplicative or competing recruitment efforts don’t just waste energy and funding; they also can send the self-damaging message that the county doesn’t have its recruitment act together. In a presentation to county commissioners, Robert Van Geons, executive director of the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission, outlined ways to refine and strengthen the marketing message, including making sure that it includes the airport and county industrial park, two important business assets. As part of a more targeted approach, the county approved $35,000 to help revamp the EDC Web site, to be augmented by other funding. When so much research is Web-oriented, it’s an absolute must to have a state-of-the-art Web site. These days, a Web site ó rather than Main Street or an interstate interchange ó may create a prospect’s first impression of Rowan County and Salisbury. A clunky marketing Web site just doesn’t compute.
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Dart to dire forecasts from University of North Carolina officials who are warning of class reductions and the loss of faculty positions if they have to endure a 7 percent budget cut. “Class sizes will get bigger,” UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp told the News & Observer of Raleigh. “It will be harder to get the classes needed to graduate. The student-faculty ratio is going to go down.” That sounds like a pre-emptive shot across the bow of the General Assembly to put lawmakers on the defensive before they’ve made any cuts at all. With the state facing a $2 billion shortfall and many parents and students facing the prospect of going deeper into debt to finance higher education, college officials aren’t immune from serious cutbacks, too. Before cutting faculty and course offerings, however, the college system has other options, such as cutting administrative staff and using employee furloughs to reduce expenses (as system president Erskine Bowles has suggested).

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