By Justin Franz, 4-29-12
||Caption: File photo by Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg said people were giving high-fives in the U.S. Capitol on Thursday after news broke that the U.S. Department of Labor was withdrawing proposed regulations that would have restricted what young laborers could do on farms and in other agricultural settings.
“This is one of the instances where the good guys won,” Rehberg said on Friday during a teleconference.
The Labor Department proposed child farm labor changes last year that quickly drew criticism from lawmakers of rural agricultural states, including Montana's Washington D.C. delegation. The new previsions would have kept anyone employed under the age of 16 from working with animals when they are branded, castrated or vaccinated; from working in a pen with an un-castrated male bovine, porcine or equine over six months old; from working on a ladder or scaffolding that is more than six feet off the ground; or from using power-driven machinery, from an electric drill to a tractor. The regulations would have also banned anyone under 18 from working in stockyards, grain elevators, feedlots, livestock exchanges and auctions.
Educators, including officials with the Future Farmers of America, were among those openly opposing the new restrictions. Montana Foundation Director Jaime Cargill said safety has always been the organization's primary concern, but the best way for children to learn is through experience. Cargill said the organization looks forward to working with the Labor Department to develop programs that will help young laborers earn the experience they need in a safe environment.
“We could not have been happier,” she said of the Labor Department's decision. “It was a big concern to farmers and agricultural advisors and educators across the state.”
The Labor Department withdrew its proposed rules after the emergence of overwhelming opposition. In a press release, it said that the Obama administration was committed to protecting family farms and the traditions they hold dear.
“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,” a Department of Labor representative wrote in a statement Thursday. "To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration."
Rehberg praised the Obama administration for withdrawing the proposed changes but said a disconnect remains between Washington D.C. and rural America. He also said the proposed rules were insulting to rural Americans.
“It's offensive that someone from the Department of Labor, not the Department of Agricultural, thinks that parents, grandparents and great-grandparents don't care about their children’s safety,” he said.
Montana Sen. Jon Tester also praised the Labor Department for its decision to withdraw the restrictions.
“I appreciate the Department of Labor listening to my concerns and those of hard-working Montana farmers and dropping these rules so we can continue our way of life and keep feeding America,” he said in a statement.
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