by Matt Lacy –
Congressman Cory Gardner has said that proposed regulations by the federal government that would bar young people from operating farm equipment shows that Washington needs a reality check
“You get somebody who doesn’t understand agriculture and you get screwy regulations like this,” Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said.
In a further attempt to show that government knows best, the Department of Labor is proposing new rules that would bar anyone under the age of 16 from performing what it considers to be dangerous jobs such as driving tractors, handling pesticides and branding cattle.
Currently the parental exemption allows children of any age who are employed by their parent, or a person standing in the place of a parent to perform any job on a farm, however under the new regulations the exemption would only apply to the parent of the children. This would mean children would no longer be able to work on farms owned by their uncle, grandparents, other relatives or neighbors.
The reason given for the new rules was the government wants to bring “parity” between children working on farms and those in other occupations.
While the new rules may seem bizarre to anyone who has actually worked on a farm, some insight can be gleaned from examining the organizations pushing the new regulations onf farmers.
The new rules have the support of many liberal groups including the National Council of La Raza and Human Rights Watch as well as labor unions such as the United Steelworkers, AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, Teamsters, SEIU and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
Proponents of the rules dispute that the rules would prohibit children from working on farms other than their immediate family and limit their ability to drive tractors, howerver, Gardner says the problem is that when rules are intentionally vague individuals will oftentimes err on the side of caution.
“Anytime an agency can create a confusing series of rules that can be interpreted any way they want and have the ability to fine people for being out of compliance depending on what the agenda is, that is bad for the country.”
Another change if the regulations are adopted would be the elimination of training and certification programs conducted by the US Department of Agriculture Federal Extension Service and vocational agriculture education institutions.
Despite organizations such as 4-H and the FFA having years of experience and successful long-tenured relationships with rural communities, the department says the organizations are providing training “insufficient to provide a young hired farmworker with the skills and knowledge he or she would need to operate the diverse range of agricultural tractors and equipment in use on today’s farms.”
The department offers no data or peer-reviewed study to substantiate their statement and even admits in the proposed rule there is no research available to verify the effectiveness of the 4-H tractor program. The lack of data apparently does no matter to the federal government, which is bent on preventing 14 and 15 year olds from operating farm equipment despite this being the norm on farms for decades.
Another proposed change would be a ban on nearly all electronic devices while operating the tractor and other equipment. While the new regulations would permit the use of GPS devices providing the tractor is stationary, the regulations fail to take into account that modern farm equipment uses a variety of electronic tools that help improve safety.
Many of these systems require interaction between the machine and the operator during operation and can make the operation of equipment easier and safer when compared to older farm equipment without these devices.
In justifying this ban, the department attempts to make a correlation between driving automobile in traffic and driving a piece of farm equipment on a field where no other vehicles were present.
While the department sites general statistics about accidents involving motor vehicles, it does not provide any evidence that explains how motor vehicle accidents relate to the operation of farm machinery. The only evidence offered is the department’s belief that the statistics may be applicable to the operation of farm machinery.
There is also a ban on “power driven equipment” which the Department of Labor defines as ” all machines, equipment, implements, vehicles, and/or devices operated by any power source other than human hand or foot power.” Additionally, ” equipment operated by any source of energy, such as wind , electricity, fossil fuels, batteries, animals , or water” would all be considered ” power-driven.”
In a letter sent to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, 70 members of the House of Representatives expressed concern over the proposed rules noting it would be detrimental to young Americans who currently participate in the FFA and 4-H programs by prohibiting them from getting hands-on experience in agriculture.
Gardner said it was obvious whoever designed these regulations has never worked on a farm. “They are too far removed from agriculture; they don’t understand what agriculture is and how it works.”
He went on to say if the regulations were to go into effect they could have a devastating effect on his district.
“Our children, especially the next generation of agriculture need experience and there are so few experienced individuals in production agriculture today they may or may not be able to get it from their parents. We shouldn’t restrict them from getting an experience in agriculture just because it’s not their parent’s farm or ranch.”
The Senate noted that the Department of labor was under no obligation to issue new regulations and has in fact usurped the authority of Congress.
“It is puzzling why the department would suddenly propose changes to existing regulations, particularly considering the advancements and farm equipment and adoption of technologies and improved operator safety in the last 35 years.”
“Congress enacted different standards in the FLSA specifically to address the different occupational situations facing agriculture compared other areas of employment. The FLSA does not contain, nor has Congress ever approved, the concept of “parity” between agricultural and nonagricultural sectors. The department should abandon its goal of parity, unless specifically authorized to do so in the future by Congress.”
Gardner lays the blame for the regulatory overreach by federal agencies squarely at the feet of Congress.
“Over the past decade or so, many of these regulations have come out because Congress delegated too much authority to the agencies and we did not do our proper job of actually legislating.”
He said that ultimately rules needed to be crafted by people who have actually worked on a farm.
“We need for some of these bureaucrats to spend some time on the farm. Of course, if they did there might be a cultivator blight that year.”
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