Directed by the Obama Administration to abandon a proposed change to its regulatory code, the Labor Department has announced that it will not enforce new rules designed to limit the type of work minors can perform on family farms.
Last December, the U.S. Department of Labor announced its updated proposal to ban children younger than 16 from using power-driven farm equipment. For those under the age of 18, the proposal would have prohibited employment in country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions as well as banning work with raw farm materials.
The DOL had been preparing the proposal for over a year. Attempting to avoid controversy, the agency said that exemptions would be made for children who worked on farms owned or operated by their parents.
But many farm-state lawmakers derided the proposal as too broad and impractical for small family farms. Groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation said the new rules would disrupt rural traditions which see some children apprentice on farms owned by extended family members.
“The decision to withdraw this rule — including provisions to define the ‘parental exemption’ — was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms,” the Department said in a press release. “To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) praised the decision to reverse the rule, as he said it threatened a way of life.
"Those regulations were very specific, things that seemed very lacking in common sense and in many ways just crazy," Moran said at a Topeka, Kansas news conference last Friday. He said later in a prepared statement:
“If this proposal had gone into effect, not only would the shrinking rural workforce have been further reduced, and our nation’s youth deprived of valuable career training opportunities, but a way of life would have begun to disappear.”
South Dakota Republican Rep. Kristi Noem commended the grassroots effort to bury the rule.
“I want to thank every farmer, rancher and young person who joined many of us in Congress to speak out against this proposal, which would have fundamentally changed the way folks have been farming and ranching for generations,” she said in a statement. “I continue to agree that safety on farms and ranches is imperative, but telling kids they can’t do 4-H or farm-related chores is not the answer.”
Some Democrats also applauded the rule recension as the right move.
Sen. John Tester (D-Montana) promised last week to "fight any measure that threatens that heritage and our rural way of life." On Monday, Rep. Dan Boren – an Oklahoma Democrat – said he was pleased to hear that the Administration abandoned the rule, which he called flawed.
“While the rule was being considered, I co-authored bipartisan legislation, the Preserving America's Family Farms Act, to block it from going forward. “In the future, I strongly urge the Department of Labor to work collaboratively with rural stake holders, such as farmers and ranchers, on issues that affect their communities,” Boren said.
House Agricultural Committee Chairman Frank Lucas issued a statement over the weekend regarding the DOL's sudden labor rule reversal. It reads in part:
"I am pleased that common sense finally prevailed and the Department of Labor withdrew its burdensome, misguided proposed rule that would have prevented young people from working on farms. This proposed rule created great angst in the countryside about the impact it would have had on the future of the family farm. It was a concern that agricultural producers kept raising during our Farm Bill field hearings. "The Obama administration has proposed numerous rules that affect family farmers and ranchers without fully knowing the impact of their actions. I hope this will serve as a lesson to the administration that they should seek input from the agriculture sector before continuing to move forward with unworkable regulations.
The Obama Administration has said it will work with the Farm Bureau, the National Farmers Union and 4-H to promote educational campaigns to reduce on-farm accidents to young workers.