On Friday, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Comission approved a one-year “stay of enforcement” for certain testing and certification requirements for manufacturers and importers of products for children 12 and under, including books, as dictated by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. At the same time, however, the products must still be “safe,” as per the Act’s requirements, starting on February 10, 2009.

“Manufacturers and importers—large and small—of children’s products will not need to test or certify to these new requirements, but will need to meet the lead and phthalates limits, mandatory toy standards and other requirements,” said a CPSC statement issued Friday. In other words, if any products were found that violate the regulations, there would still be liability concerns and the fines dictated by the Act would still apply.

“Whether or not this gives us more breathing room really depends on the reaction of the distribution chain to this stay,” said Allan Adler, v-p legal and government affairs for the Association of American Publishers. He pointed out that big box stores and others in the distribution chain started to demand safety certifications as early as last November, well before the testing requirements of the Act took effect. “The question is whether this stay will have a calming effect along the distribution chain.”

The one-year stay is intended to give commission staff more time to decide on whether any products are to be exempted from the Act—something book publishers have been pushing for when it comes to traditional ink-on-paper and ink-on-board books, which almost universally fall well within the most stringent lead limits—and to issue more guidance on testing deadlines and protocols. The commission has asked for more information from the publishing industry to support the fact that books, and the components they are made of, are safe, before it can make a determination about whether they will be exempt from the Act.

In other CPSIA news, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina wrote on his blog Friday that he would introduce legislation this week to reform the CPSIA and “better balance the need for safety with a common-sense business approach.” His proposed legislation would allow small manufacturers to comply by using the testing and certification that their component suppliers have done, rather than having to test final products. (This is the approach several publishers already are taking.) It also would prevent retroactive enforcement of the Act, which would eliminate the testing requirement for books manufacturered prior to the deadline, a major concern for publishers, booksellers, schools and libraries, and would exempt resellers, including thrift stores and used booksellers, from the Act’s provisions.

Also on Friday, a handful of pro-CPSIA consumer groups, including Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Kids in Danger, National Consumers League, National Research Center for Women & Families, Public Citizen and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, sent a letter to President Obama asking for new leadership at the CPSC to replace Acting Commissioner Nancy Nord. The groups argue that the Act is a needed solution to child-safety issues, but acknowledge the legitimacy of the concerns put forth by book publishers, libraries, thrift stores, home crafters and small businesses. The groups argue that the CPSC’s delay in addressing these issues has created confusion, delayed implementation of the Act as a whole, and contributed “to broader efforts to undermine consumer safety in this nation.”