House takes action to prevent changes
in child labor laws for farmers, ranchers
Though the federal Labor Department had said it would not pursue a controversial labor policy for farm kids that had the agriculture community up in arms, the House took action July 24 to make sure, by passing the "Preserving America's Family Farm Act."
The bill was introduced this spring, even as labor officials said they would not go forward with a proposed rule regulating children under age 16 who work on farms, including those of their parents and grandparents.
Many farmers and their organizations said the rule went too far and they made their disapproval known.
The agency got 40,000 written comments on the rule - mostly from farmers and ag groups that opposed it.
Labor officials said, in announcing their intention to withdraw the rule change, that the regulation would "not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration."
Instead, the Department of Labor said it would work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and with rural stakeholders - specifically naming the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, FFA and 4-H - to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.
Despite the agency's statements, farm groups and farm state lawmakers were concerned that a similar rule could surface later on. That was behind the introduction of HR 4157 or the "Preserving America's Family Farm Act."
The bill, introduced by Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA) and co-sponsored by 94 other lawmakers, ensures the ability of youth to gain training and education by working on the farm.
The measure passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a voice vote on July 24.
It has also been introduced in the Senate by Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) as S. 2221. There, the measure has 44 cosponsors.
Farm groups were encouraging the Senate to bring the measure to the floor and pass it sooner rather than later, but Capitol watchers said it likely won't come up for a vote in the upper house.
The measure prohibits the Secretary of Labor from finalizing or enforcing regulations in the future that would change the definition of "parental exemption," change the student learner exemption or significantly redefine what practices would be acceptable for youth under the age of 16.
The legislation basically prohibits the rules that had been proposed by Labor officials that would have limited even tasks that are considered "age-appropriate" on farms, like feeding calves.
When those rules were proposed, many farmers feared that the rules would prevent the training of a next generation of farmers and young people who wanted to learn about farming - even prevent FFA members from doing their supervised agriculture projects.
Many also said the rules interfered with parents' discretion when it comes to the capabilities of their own child's activities on farms.
"Even though the Department of Labor earlier this year withdrew its contentious proposed rule restricting the work that children could do on farms, NMPF remains concerned that the issue could surface again at some point in the future," said Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation.
"Although the Obama Administration has said it won't go down this path again, we want to be certain that subsequent administrations don't attempt something similar, which is why this bill is needed," he added, praising the passage of the measure in the House.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association President J.D. Alexander said the administration's proposed rule could have restricted, and in some instances totally prevented, America's youth from working on family farms and ranches, which was why this legislation is needed.
"We absolutely have to have a sensible regulatory environment in Washington, DC. We should not have to worry about negligent rules being promulgated by out-of-touch regulatory agencies," Alexander said.
"This is a victory for farm and ranch families throughout the country," he said, adding that the Labor Department's proposed rule could have prevented the next generation of farmers and ranchers from "acquiring skills and passion for this very noble profession."
Alexander said the administration's action to withdraw the rule illustrates the importance of farm and ranch families being engaged in the decisions that are being made in Washington.
He said this legislation goes a step further and ensures this rule does not resurface in the future
"We appreciate the administration listening to U.S. agriculture and pulling this rule. However, it is essential that farm and ranch families are afforded a level of certainty that this rule will not come up again in some form or fashion," said Alexander. "We need this legislation."
The American Farm Bureau Federation was joined by several other farm groups in urging the House to pass HR 4157, saying that though they all supported farm safety efforts, the regulations introduced last year by the Labor Department "took caution beyond recognition."
The letter told lawmakers that the proposed regulations had been "overly burdensome to agriculture producers" and would have "limited, if not eliminated, training opportunities for youth in rural America."
They said it was fortunate that the administration listened to the concerns of farmers and ranchers by withdrawing the regulation in April, but they felt "the threat to family farms still exists."
"While we all respect the obligations and responsibilities of the Department of Labor to ensure the safety of youth working on farms, we believe that the approaches taken need to be well reasoned and not detrimental to the family farm or the youth participating in farm work," the letter continued.
The letter was signed by American Feed Industry Association; the American Horse Council; the American Seed Trade Association; the American Soybean Association; the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association; the International Association of Fairs and Expositions; the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture; the National Cattlemen's Beef Association; the National Council of Agricultural Employers; the National Cotton Council; the National FFA Organization; the National Milk Producers Federation; the National Pork Producers Council; the United Fresh Produce Association; and the U.S. Apple Association.