WASHINGTON (AP) - Under heavy pressure from farm groups, the Obama administration said Thursday it would drop an unpopular plan to prevent children from doing hazardous work on farms owned by anyone other than their parents.
The Labor Department said it is withdrawing proposed rules that would ban children younger than 16 from using most power-driven farm equipment, including tractors. The rules also would prevent those younger than 18 from working in feed lots, grain bins and stockyards.
While labor officials said their goal was to reduce the fatality rate for child farm workers, the proposal had become a popular political target for Republicans who called it an impractical, heavy-handed regulation that ignored the reality of small farms.
"It's good the Labor Department rethought the ridiculous regulations it was going to stick on farmers and their families," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. "To even propose such regulations defies common sense, and shows a real lack of understanding as to how the family farm works."
The surprise move comes just two months after the Labor Department modified the rule in a bid to satisfy opponents. The agency made it clear it would exempt children who worked on farms owned or operated by their parents, even if the ownership was part of a complex partnership or corporate agreement.
That didn't appease farm groups that complained it would upset traditions in which many children work on farms owned by uncles, grandparents and other relatives to reduce costs and learn how a farm operates. The Labor Department said Thursday it was responding to thousands of comments that expressed concern about the impact of the changes on small family-owned farms.
"The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations," the agency said in a statement.
Instead, the agency said it would work with rural stakeholders, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union and 4-H to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a grain farmer known to till his fields on weekends away from Washington, had come out strongly against the proposed rule. The Democrat continued to criticize the Obama administration rule even after it was tempered earlier this year, saying the Labor Department "clearly didn't get the whole message" from Montana's farmers and ranchers.
Tester, who is in a tough race for re-election, on Thursday praised the decision to withdraw the rule and said he would fight "any measure that threatens that heritage and our rural way of life."
The move is sure to disappoint child safety groups who said the rules represent long-overdue protections for children working for hire in farm communities. Three-quarters of working children under 16 who died of work-related injuries in 2010 were in agriculture, according to the Child Labor Coalition.
Last month, the child advocacy group criticized GOP legislation that would have stopped the Labor Department from issuing the rules.
"They will save lives and preserve the health of farm children so they can grow up to be farmers," said Reid Maki, the CLC coordinator. "The department should implement them as soon as possible."
Associated Press writer Matt Gouras in Helena, Mont., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
BROOKLAND, AR (KAIT) - Congressman Rick Crawford is co-sponsoring legislation that would bar the U.S. Department of Labor from enacting updated child labor regulations.
The proposed rules would impose stricter requirements for young workers in agriculture related fields.
Congressman Crawford is co-sponsoring H.R. 4157, the Preserving America Family Farms Act, which states that the proposed regulations would "limit opportunities to recruit young farmers to agriculture at a time when the average age of farmers continues to rise."
Working the land is second nature to David Hodges. "I probably started doing this kind of stuff when I was eight to 10 years old."
A farmer for most of his life, Hodges said he understands why the U.S. Department of Labor wants to enact stricter legislation. "There's no question that farming is a dangerous occupation. There are lots of different hazards because there are so many different things that we do."
The changes the Department is proposing would be the first since 1970. The Department initially proposed the restrictions in August 2011.
After criticism from the public and members of Congress the Labor Department decided in February 2012 to "re-propose" the legislation to allow time for more input.
Congressman Rick Crawford told Region 8 News over the phone the new rules could provide a hardship to farming families and the rural parts of the United States.
Congressman Crawford is co-sponsoring H.R. 4157, or the Preserving America's Family Farms Act with Iowa Congressman Tom Latham. "It basically would prohibit the Department of Labor from finalizing or enforcing any rules that would limit the work kids can do on their family farm."
Crawford said the language of the bill could affect programs such as Future Farmers of America and 4H. "Is that going to be interpreted by the Department of Labor to apply the law to those livestock projects the kids in FFA and 4H are managing here?"
Hodges, who now has young employees of his own, hopes the Department doesn't go over board. "You can go too far with anything, and I hope they'll use some common sense when they start looking at putting some further restrictions on us."
Restrictions in the proposed rules from the Department of Labor web site:
- Prohibit agricultural work with animals and in pesticide handling, timber operations, manure pits and storage bins.
- Prohibit farmers under the age of 16 from participating in the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco.
- Prohibit youth in both agricultural and nonagricultural employment from using electronic, including communication, devices while operating power-driven equipment.
- Prohibit workers under 18 from being employed in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials. Prohibited places of employment would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.
- Prohibit farmers under the age of 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment.