WASHINGTON — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) are supporting legislation to stop a proposed new federal rule restricting youth employment on farms and ranches.
The senators are original cosponsors on the Preserving America’s Family Farm Act (S.2221), which was introduced last week by Senators John Thune (R-S.D.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). The bill currently has 42 cosponsors. The legislation would prohibit the Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis from finalizing or implementing reforms to federal regulations governing child labor on farms.
“The Labor Department has been largely unresponsive to the significant concerns raised by the agriculture community. Although the Secretary of Labor has agreed to rewrite parts of the regulations dealing with family farms, there are still enough problems with the overall rule that it should be held up,” Cochran said. “The safety of young people working on farms and ranches is important, but I question whether those writing these regulations truly understand farm life.”
According to the senators, the Labor Department last September unveiled draft regulations intended to realign farm worker rules for youth toward rules governing youth workers in hazardous nonagricultural occupations. Under growing pressure from agriculture interests and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Solis in early February agreed to rewrite portions of the regulation dealing with children working on family-owned farms. The Department intends to continue to push for new restrictions on paid, non-family farm youth employment.
The proposed rule takes a broad and detailed approach to regulating youth labor on farms and ranches, the senators contend. It would, for example, require adult supervision for youth working near or handling most animals older than six months. This proposal could adversely affect the ability of farm youth to undertake in FFA and 4-H livestock projects or participate in farm safety courses offered by the Cooperative Extension Service.
The regulation would also prohibit youth from operating farm machinery over 20 PTO horsepower, completing tasks at elevations over six feet high and working at stockyards and grain and feed facilities. The proposed rule would also restrict youth from operating a battery-powered screwdriver or a pressurized garden hose.
Cochran and Wicker were among 30 Senators who wrote Solis last December outlining concerns with the proposed rule and asking that it be withdrawn. Rather than respond to the letter, the Department of Labor submitted it to the record as a public comment to the rule.
The American Farm Federation, on behalf of more than 70 groups, has also formally asked the Labor Department to withdraw the regulation.