California legislation that would have required table-saw manufacturers to install flesh-detecting technology in table saws with blades under 12 inches has died in the State Senate.

But Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), who introduced the bill, hasn’t given up the effort. He says he will be looking at the possibility of introducing similar legislation again next year.

“Right now, we can’t continue because what I really want to do is make sure that people know that this is not a one company bill,” Williams said.

The Table Saw Safety Act, AB 2218, was introduced in February by Williams and would have required technology like that used in SawStop saws for any new saw sold in the state. The bill passed the State Assembly by a 64-4 margin and moved ahead in the State Senate on July 3 on a 3-2 vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee. But in August when the bill was brought to full Senate it was quashed at the request of Sen. Robert Dutton (R- Rancho Cucamonga) just before the session adjourned for the year. Attempts to contact Dutton and his staff for comment were unsuccessful.

“I think that’s an unfortunate thing for woodworkers in California and the whole nation,” says Stephen Gass, who invented the SawStop technology. “There’s a lot of people who are going to be injured or suffer devastating injuries that they wouldn’t if the bill would have passed legislation.”

Gass lobbied strenuously on behalf of the bill, including making political contributions of $46,400 to 21 key legislators, including $2,500 to Williams. That campaign caused the Power Tool Institute, a trade group representing power tool manufacturers, to question whether Gass was attempting to force his technology on the state of California.

“It’s important that there be more than one person in the marketplace,” said Williams. “But it’s also important that we do set the standard for safety because we have tens of thousands of injuries a year costing the taxpayer and society at large their insurance rates. There’s simply too much money to not use the technology available to reduce injury,” he said.

However, opponents of the bill have noted that patents covering the SawStop technology have kept other manufacturers from developing competing systems. Opponents also say the cost of adding the technology might be prohibitive in the lower-price range saws. Big box stores such as Home Depot, Lowe’s and Sears, were joined by the California Chamber of Commerce in opposing the bill.
The Power Tool institute claims that the bill was about legislating market share and attempting to create a monopoly. But Gass denies those charges.

“That’s their justification to keep selling dangerous products,” Gass says. “There are customers (hurt) every single day. The truth of the matter is that there are multiple different systems out there that could be implemented to meet the standards that the bill had. But rather than spending their time actually making their products safer for their customers, they’re spending their effort hiring lobbyists who oppose customer safety,” he said.

“We still support the idea,” Gass says, “and I would anticipate that we will continue to be supportive of Das Williams. Hopefully it will move forward. It often takes more than one try to get something like this to actually happen.”

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