(AP) Govt backs off new limits on child labor on farms
By SAM HANANEL
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.
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.
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.”
Associated Press writer Matt Gouras in Helena, Mont., contributed to this report.