Montana’s congressional delegation is ratcheting up efforts to block new child labor rules targeting farms.
On Wednesday, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said the federal Department of Labor’s attempts to decrease farm work injuries to children would be blocked in an upcoming House appropriations bill. Rehberg called on Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to testify before his House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Service and Education.
Rehberg said he would block any spending used for rolling out the new “Youth Ag Rule.”
“Frankly, it’s insulting that federal bureaucrats thousands of miles away from a family farm would presume to think it’s their job to tell parents to keep kids safe,” Rehberg said in a prepared statement.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., introduced a bipartisan bill with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., to prevent the Labor Department from enacting the new child labor rules. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has also signed onto the bill.
Tester and Baucus argue that children cannot learn about farming without performing farm work. And because of their farm skills, farm children are very employable.
Off-limits chores for children younger than 16 would include running power equipment, driving tractors or branding livestock, to name a few. Children younger than 18 would be banned from working in feedlots, stockyards and around grain bins.
Labor officials argue the reforms are needed because the number of children killed doing farm work is four times higher than children doing non-farm chores. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 74 percent of all child work deaths between 2003 and 2010 were farm deaths.
Responding to rural concerns in February, the Labor Department agreed to tone down child safety rules by allowing children to do work for farms in which their parents were only part owners, or for corporate farms in which their parents had a stake.
Those changes are promised, but not yet delivered. Originally, only children working for their parents were exempt.
After the exemptions, regulations would still apply for children such as migrant child farm laborers working for non-family members, as well as children working for neighbors.
Even with the exemptions, farm groups worried that children in groups like Future Farmers of America wouldn’t be able to work on farm projects away from home.