Iowa lawmakers applaud reversal on farm child labor rules

The Obama Administration has permanently shelved controversial rules that would have limited what kids under the age of 16 can do on the farm.  Iowa’s politicians are applauding, figuratively, via written statements.  You may read them below. (No statement from Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate HELP Committee — the L stands for Labor.)

(DES MOINES) – Gov. Terry E. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds released a statement regarding the U.S. Department of Labor’s withdrawal of the proposed rules that would have placed burdensome restrictions on the activities of young people in agriculture.

Gov. Branstad and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis in November, 2011, expressing concerns over these regulations.  Governor Branstad also discussed his continued concerns with U.S. Department of Labor officials and the congressional delegation during his February trip to Washington, DC.  In addition, both he and Lt. Governor Reynolds discussed the proposed rules on Monday in a roundtable discussion with FFA members and State leaders at the Iowa Capitol.

Gov. Terry Branstad stated the following:
“I applaud this announcement by the U.S. Department of Labor to withdraw their proposed rules for young people participating in agriculture.  The proposed rules were a prime example of federal overreach and it is unfortunate that they were proposed in the first place.  That said, I am glad that common sense has prevailed.   The parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors who care the most about the young people starting a career in agriculture are best positioned to determine the capabilities and safety of the kids they love.  Agriculture continues to be a bright spot in the U.S. economy and we should continue to oppose regulations that lack common sense.

“I look forward to continuing to work with agricultural stakeholders, including the FFA and 4-H, to build upon successful grassroots initiatives that truly help to continually improve agricultural working practices for young people.”

Lt. Governor Reynolds stated the following:
“I am heartened to see this change in course from the U.S. Department of Labor.  The governor and I have heard from numerous Iowans that these proposed rules would have prevented young people from learning career and life skills through active participation in livestock operations and many aspects of crop production.  In addition, there were significant concerns that the federal government was seeking to narrow the definition of the parental exemption in a way that would have been totally disjointed from the realities and structures of current family farms.  The Governor and I discussed these rules with Iowa FFA students and Secretary Northey earlier this week.  We would also like to thank those Members of the Iowa congressional delegation who were actively engaged in this issue, including the efforts of Congressman Tom Latham to preempt these regulations with legislation if the rules had not been withdrawn.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Leonard Boswell (IA-3) issued a statement on the Department of Labor’s withdrawal of the child farm labor rule.

“I am pleased the Department of Labor stopped pursing the issue of limiting youth work on the family farm. Reasoned heads prevailed,” Boswell said. “There are better, already existing educational resources through farm groups to educate and promote safety for young farm hands. I will work with those groups to keep farm workers of all ages safe.”

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) released the following statement after the US Department of Labor announced it was withdrawing a proposed regulation that would have made it more difficult for farmers and ranchers to hire youth to work in agriculture:
“The demise of the Obama administration’s proposed rule to require children be a minimum age to work on farms is welcome news. A regulation prohibiting youths from working on farms would strike at the very core of agriculture across Iowa and the Midwest.  This is Iowa. Working on the family farm is part of growing up.  I know — I remember many hot summer days I spent as a kid detassling corn in the fields. I’ll keep working to ensure misguided regulations like this one don’t see the light of day.”
In December, Braley wrote to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis urging her to drop the proposed rule. 

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack today praised the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for withdrawing a proposed rule dealing with youth who work in agriculture. Last week, Loebsack met with the DOL to urge them to review Iowans’ concerns that part of the proposal would limit activities children could perform on family farms and the effect the updates could have on student education programs in rural areas.

“Iowa farmers have a long and proud tradition of feeding the world,” said Loebsack. “After hearing from concerned family farmers from across Iowa and the nation, I am pleased the Department of Labor has taken this step to help protect Iowa’s way of life. When I met with the Department of Labor, I stressed the importance of better cooperation and outreach to the agriculture community and raised concerns about this rule. I applaud their commitment to working in a cooperative way to make our farms safer for kids.”

In addition to meeting with the DOL, Loebsack wrote to the Secretary of Labor to urge the Department to ensure Iowa farmers and families had the opportunity to be heard regarding these proposals and urged the Department to reconsider the provisions relating to the parental exemption for children helping on the farm, which had already been withdrawn prior to today.

Washington, DC- Congressman Steve King (R-IA) released the following statement today after the Department of Labor announced that it will withdraw its proposed rule to prohibit young people from working on family farms and participating in agriculture education programs including Future Farmers of America and 4-H.

“Once again President Obama’s overreaching policies have outraged the American people,” said King. “I’m happy to see the backlash surrounding this rule has prompted the Department of Labor to withdraw the proposed rule. The Department of Agriculture collaborated with the Department of Labor on this direct assault of American family farms. Family farms are the core of American culture, and for centuries they have played a large role in instilling a strong work ethic in young people. I know because I raised my three sons in rural Iowa and taught them the value of hard work.”

“I’m pleased to have had the support of many farm families as I’ve worked to oppose this rule in order to ensure that young people will still have the same opportunities.  This policy was not only unnecessary, it threatened the very way of life that I and so many others hold dear. When will President Obama realize that his out of touch policies do not reflect the values of the American people? His actions continue to show that he is disconnected with the people in the heartland of this great country.”

Senator Chuck Grassley released the following statement after learning that the Department of Labor would be withdrawing the entirety of its proposed regulations that would have put stringent restrictions on young people working on family farms.  Grassley, one of the only working family farmers in the U.S. Senate, has vigorously defended the opportunity for kids to work on family farms.  He has said that generations of Iowans have cut their teeth working on the farm, whether for their own family, or a neighbor’s farm and that young people are a valuable part of farming operations. 

“It’s good the Labor Department rethought the ridiculous regulations it was going to stick on farmers and their families.  It would have been devastating to farm families across the country.  Much of rural America was built on families helping families, neighbors helping neighbors.  To even propose such regulations defies common sense, and shows a real lack of understanding as to how the family farm works.  I’m glad the Obama administration came to its senses.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.