On Monday, three years after the August 2008 enactment of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, publishers of ink-on-paper books and other printed materials suddenly received news they’d been hoping for from the outset. Both the House and Senate passed an amendment to CPSIA that exempts “ordinary” children’s books, along with a few other classes of products (e.g., all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles), from the law’s testing provisions.

“It’s awesome news,” said Gary Jones, assistant v-p for environmental, health and safety affairs at the Printing Industries of America. “We still have to comply with the lead limits and the tracking labels, but not the most onerous part, which is the testing and subsequently the certification requirements. While the legislation does not specifically exclude us from certification, if we don’t have to test, we should not have to certify.”

“We knew there was a good deal of work going on behind the scenes in the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade,” said Allan Adler, the Association of American Publishers’ v-p for legal and government affairs. “But we were surprised at how fast it happened. They were working on revisions [of a previous amendment] that would bring both parties together, but we thought it would be well after the Labor Day break.”

The publishing and printing industries had long argued that books have never presented a threat of high lead levels and therefore should be exempted from the law’s testing provisions. Most books previously had been included under a stay of enforcement on testing, but this bill exempts most books from the requirements entirely.

Novelty books, book-plus titles and some others will still need to test for lead. There may also need to be some additional regulatory clarification on what constitutes an “ordinary book,” but the bill broadly defines the term as including books printed on paper or board using process inks “and bound and finished using conventional methods.” This would include books with spiral bindings and laminates, which had not been covered under the stay of enforcement, according to Adler.

The new amendment also removes the requirement for testing products manufactured prior to the enactment of the law, including books produced before 1986, which also were not included under the stay of enforcement. This, along with the exemption for ordinary books, alleviates the concerns of libraries. “It’s fantastic,” said Jessica McGilvray, the American Library Association’s assistant director, office of government relations. “The bill contains everything we needed. Libraries are completely in the clear.”

Through a suspension of rules, the bipartisan bill, H.R. 2715, was introduced and put to a vote in the House in a single day, passing by an unexpectedly large margin of 421-2. Introduced by Reps. Mary Mack Bono (R-Calif.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), it followed the introduction of a previous bill, the Enhancing CPSC Authority and Discretion Act (ECADA) of 2011 earlier this year. The latter did not address publishers’ concerns directly, however, although it was considered beneficial to libraries.

The Senate voted on the House bill late Monday. It now goes to President Obama for signature. Due to the bipartisan vote and previous signals that the CPSC would be willing to exclude books, book industry observers agree that the chances of it becoming law seem positive.

Publishers of children’s books that still need to be tested by third-party labs look forward to the CPSC’s publication of the rules for such testing. The requirement currently is under a stay of enforcement until January 1, 2012, to give the CPSC more time to iron out the details. Earlier this week, the CPSC published the phthalate-testing rules; these apply to products with soft plastic components, such as rubber ducks or bath books, which are not allowed to contain more than .1% phthalates (a plastic-softening agent) under the law.

The proposed legislation does offer some potential relief for novelty and other publishers who need to test for lead. “It doesn’t eliminate third-party testing directly, but it allows the CPSC some flexibility to reduce the burden and cost associated with testing,” Jones said. In addition to containing a provision directing the CPSC generally to look at ways to reduce the burden, it also makes a significant change that allows representative sampling, rather than statistically significant random sampling. This would be less complicated and require fewer samples to be tested.

Monday’s legislation follows a series of CPSC rulings since the law’s enactment that have partially addressed publishers’ concerns, as well as several proposed bills in Congress, some of which seemed promising, that ultimately disappeared. Click here for our timeline of significant CPSIA milestones over the last three years.