WASHINGTON ― When Timothy Frink’s daughter and son-in-law returned from tours of duty in Iraq, he was relieved they were back in the comparative safety of America. Seven months later the family got a harsh reminder of how dangerous home could be: The couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Brianna, was accidentally strangled by a window blind cord in their den.
“It’s a terrible irony and a shame that Brianna had to be killed in her own home, which should be a safe haven,” said Frink. He thinks her life could have been saved by stronger regulations.
Five years after his granddaughter’s death, Frink was one of six Americans who came to Washington to warn against the risks of inadequate regulatory protections. At a press conference Thursday, they called on Congress to reject the proposed Regulatory Accountability Act, which they say would make it more difficult to impose needed rules.
The GOP-backed bill, which comes amid the Trump administration’s ongoing effort to roll back regulations, passed the House in January and was introduced in the Senate in April by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).
But the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, an advocacy group that hosted Thursday’s panel, sees multiple problems. It criticizes the bill’s mandate that federal agencies adopt the most cost-effective option for “major” or “high-impact” rules, rather than seeking to maximize net benefits.
The legislation would add 53 new procedural requirements, according to the coalition, that would lead to more delays in an already slow-moving process.
The bill would also require agencies to hold so-called adversarial hearings in public for substantial regulations. The coalition described this process as “chaotic” and “discredited” and warned that it would mean corporate lobbyists “will have even more opportunities to undermine public protections.”
The six panelists had their own stories to tell. Octavia “Penny” Dryden, a two-time cancer survivor from Rosegate, Delaware, spoke of the increased health risks in her community due to pollution, which could have been mitigated through better environmental regulation. Dr. Paul Brooks of Parkersburg, West Virginia, explained that if it weren’t for updated regulations, residents of his community would still be drinking water contaminated with harmful levels of the man-made chemical C8. Chrissy Christoferson, whose son Beck contracted salmonella at only 10 months old, advocated for stronger food safety standards. Amber Adamastos shared how she was repeatedly harassed by a major bank to repay her student loans, even though they had been discharged in court. Congressional lawmakers are seeking to erase a new federal rule, she said, that could help people like her fight back against the bank.
Christoferson was part of a group that lobbied for the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011. She thought her fight for food safety was over when that law passed, she told HuffPost, and she was surprised to learn that the Regulatory Accountability Act could undercut how those rules were implemented. So Christoferson is back in Washington, this time with 11-year-old Beck and his brother Thomas in tow, to continue the battle.
“We should be able to go to the grocery store and buy anything we want and know that it’s not going to make our child sick,” she said. “We shouldn’t wonder about if we’re going to get salmonella from something that’s in a package.”
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has been rolling back many Obama-era rules, including a ban on new coal leasing on federal land and a directive protecting the rights of transgender students. He has leaned heavily on the Congressional Review Act, which allows a new administration to quickly wipe out regulations that were enacted late in the previous administration. Trump also signed an executive order in January directing that for every new regulation issued during his presidency, at least two regulations must be identified for elimination.
In February, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said the administration would work for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
Frink himself had been wary of the interfering power of the administrative state, but he’s beginning to change his mind.
“In general, I’ve always thought that I was in favor of limited government regulation of our personal lives and our businesses,” he said. “But after hearing these panelists, I’m drastically reconsidering my position.”
The last of the panelists to speak was Miles Harrison, whose 21-month-old son Chase died in 2008 after Harrison accidentally left him in the car instead of dropping him off at daycare. A tearful Harrison explained how an alarm reminding him of Chase’s presence in the back seat could have saved the toddler’s life.
Chase is not the first or last child to die in these tragic circumstances. But under the proposed law, Harrison said, it would “virtually be impossible” to pass a regulation requiring such life-saving technology in cars.
“Why does this keep happening when there is technology available to prevent it?” Harrison asked. “Every loving, caring parent must realize that this disaster could happen to them.”