The U.S. House this afternoon is scheduled to debate legislation that would forever ban federal officials from regulating the work kids and teenagers do on American farms. Iowa Congressman Tom Latham, a Republican from Clive, is the bill’s sponsor.
“Growing up on a farm myself and understanding how important it is to learn the operations of the farm, the responsibilities, to get the skills that you need,” Latham says, “it’s very important that kids are able to help out.”
Last fall Department of Labor officials proposed regulations that would have prohibited kids under the age of 16 from operating “power-driven” equipment like tractors. No one under the age of 18 would have been allowed to work in grain silos or handle pesticides. This past February the agency proposed an exemption to allow children to work on their own family’s farm, but then, in late April, Labor Department officials tabled the entire set of rules “for the duration of the Obama Administration.” Latham says it’s important for congress to act to kill the proposal for good.
“I think that for family farms they want certainty to know that the Department of Labor (officials) sometime in November aren’t going to come back in November and say, ‘This rule is now in place,’” Latham says.
Safety advocates had argued the rules would protect children from dangerous labor on farms, and they cited data indicating that of the 16 U.S. children under the age of 16 who died of work-related injuries in 2010, 14 of them were working in agriculture. Critics of the rules cited other data indicating the number of child injuries and deaths on American farms declined in the past decade. Latham argues officials in the Department of Labor showed a “total misunderstanding” of what family farm operations are.
“They have no clue,” Latham says. “…I would say that, you know, a child who has never had (and) is prohibited from actually helping on a farm to understanding machinery, understanding livestock, is much more vulnerable and does not have the skills nor the experience later on, then, could actually cause a more dangerous situation.”
This spring Iowa Senator Tom Harkin said he was disappointed the department had walked away from regulations that were, at the core, about protecting children and which could have been revised to correct some of the concerns that had been raised.