Bed bugs: Will repealing law requiring sanitization of used mattresses encourage bugs?

Update below: Last month, our feature story "Bug Bedlam!" detailed Denver's bed bug infestation, supposedly one of the worst in the nation. Tomorrow, the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee will hear a bill to repeal Colorado's so-called Bedding Act, which requires that used mattresses be sanitized before they're sold -- a move that has caused at least one mattress industry insider to raise his eyebrows.

"Used mattresses are certainly a source of bed bugs, so we're concerned the state is moving backwards on this issue," says Chris Hudgins, the vice president for government relations and policy of the International Sleep Products Association, based in Virginia.

But bed bugs aren't his only concern. The Colorado Bedding Act also requires sellers of used mattresses to label the mattresses as such. Repealing that requirement could tempt merchants to bamboozle their customers, Hudgins says.

"Used mattresses could be filled with dust mites, pet dander, human waste, many different gross things," he says. "If you don't know you're buying a used one, that's an issue."

Senator Linda Newell, a Littleton Democrat, is sponsoring the bill to repeal the Bedding Act, known as SB 248. She says the repeal is a way to cut excess government regulation.

"This is one of those goofy things that is still on the books," she says. "Years ago, there were problems with the industry and people were having complaints about their mattresses, so they created this mattress hotline where you could call in and complain." In 2010, she says, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which is in charge of regulation, got only one complaint.

The Legislature, she says, "might as well repeal it, since nobody is using it. It's taking government out of the mix so that consumers can go straight to where they bought it."

Patti Klocker, an assistant director at CDPHE, agrees with Newell. "The thought is to repeal it because it's nothing that we have found useful for public-health purposes," she says. In the past five years, she says CDPHE has only gotten five complaints related to mattresses -- and the complaints were about topics not even covered by the Bedding Act.

"They're basically folks who are not happy with the mattress they purchased and the shop is not accepting their return, which has nothing to do with this act," she says.

"We've also had complaints about mattresses and bed bugs," Klocker says. "That has nothing to do with the act, either. That's a whole insect issue."

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An insect issue that Hudgins, at least, thinks Colorado should pay closer attention to. "Admittedly, the current law in Colorado is fairly weak," he says. "We don't think it should be repealed. It should be strengthened."

Update, Wednesday, April 27: The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-3 in favor of SB 248. Senators Morgan Carroll, Joyce Foster and Betty Boyd voted "no." It now moves to the full Senate.

More from our Politics archives: "Senate Bill 241: Is Colorado ready to fix parole's revolving door?"

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