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WASHINGTON -- An Obama administration proposal, which would have restricted child labor on farms, was withdrawn last week after criticism from agricultural groups.
The rules, which were supported by child labor advocates, would have banned children younger than 16 from using most power-driven farm equipment, including tractors, if they had not taken a training course.
The proposal also would have prevented those younger than 18 from working in feed lots, grain bins and stockyards.
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell hailed the move as a victory for Kentucky’s family farms.
“The voices of Kentucky’s farmers and their families were heard loud and clear by the Administration,” McConnell said in a statement on Thursday. “Kentucky farmers said it was insulting to suggest that they would put their kids at risk and that the government is needed to step in to regulate their family life. The informed, commonsense decisions of parents should take precedence over those of unelected bureaucrats thousands of miles away.” Family farming is a tradition in Kentucky and the proposal withdrawn by the Department of Labor would have set a dangerous precedent for the federal government’s intrusion into family matters, McConnell said.
In March, Senator McConnell joined several of his Senate colleagues in introducing legislation to prevent the Department of Labor from enacting this proposal.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor also issued a statement regarding the withdrawal of the proposal:
“The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations,” the statement said. “The Obama administration is also deeply committed to listening and responding to what Americans across the country have to say about proposed rules and regulations.”
The DOL said the decision to withdraw the rule — including provisions to define the ‘parental exemption’ — was made “in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms. To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”
Instead, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders — such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H — to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices, according to the DOL statement.
Reid Maki, coordinator for the Child Labor Coalition, said the rules had been aimed at protecting children drawing wages and did not apply to children working on their parents’ farms. Farm work is the most dangerous sector for young workers and pulling the proposed rule could mean another 50 to 100 deaths over the next decade, he said.