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Many Still Not Satisfied with Labor Department’s Focus on Family Farms

WASHINGTON, DC – Department of Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, probably thought the 85 pages of new regulations she            quietly endorsed last year would slip past thinking Americans, but she was wrong. As Off the Grid News reported a few weeks ago, the proposed rules would restrict the activities of youth under the age of 18 on farms. Family farm operations, in particular, would be severely hampered.

In February the Labor Department apparently backed away from what many called an impractical reach into farmers’ families by reopening the public comment period on a section of the regulations designed to give parents an exemption for their own children.

This move did not impress the largest farmer’s trade group in the nation however. “American Farm Bureau does not view that as a victory,” said Kristi Boswell, a labor specialist with the American Farm Bureau Federation. “It’s a misconception that they have backed off on the parental exemption.”

The safety training requirements strike many in agriculture as particularly odd, given the injury rate among young people is already falling rapidly.  According to a United States Department of Agriculture study, farm accidents among youth fell nearly 40 percent between 2001 and 2009, to 7.2 injuries per 1,000 farms.

“They have said the number of injuries are higher for children than in non-ag industries,” said Boswell. But everyone in agriculture, “makes sure youth work in tasks that are age-appropriate.”

Another farm spokesman called the regulations vague and meddlesome. The spokesman pointed out that such rules would prohibit “kids…from working on anything ‘power take-off’ driven, and anything with a work-height over six feet — which would include the tractor I’m on now.”

The way the regulations are currently written, they would also prohibit children under 16 from using battery powered screwdrivers, since their motors, like those of a tractor, are defined as “power take-off driven.”

And jobs that could “inflict pain on an animal” would also be off-limits for kids. But “inflicting pain,” is left undefined: If it included something like putting a halter on a steer, 4-H and FFA animal shows would be a thing of the past.

In a letter to the Department of Labor in December, Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg complained that the animal provision would also mean young people couldn’t “see veterinary medicine in practice … including a veterinarian’s own children accompanying him or her to a farm or ranch.”

Boswell says the new farming regulations may be finalized as early as August. She claimed farmers could soon find the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division inspectors on their land. “In the last three years that division has grown 30 to 40 percent,” Boswell said. Some Farm Bureau members, she added, have had inspectors on their land checking on conditions for migrant workers, only to be cited for allowing their own children to perform chores that the Labor Department didn’t think were age-appropriate.

Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran believes this shouldn’t happen. During a March 14 hearing, Moran blasted Hilda Solis for getting between rural parents and their children. “The consequences of the things that you put in your regulations lack common sense,” Moran said.

“And in my view, if the federal government can regulate the kind of relationship between parents and their children on their own family’s farm, there is almost nothing off-limits in which we see the federal government intruding in a way of life.”

©2012 Off the Grid News

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