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Bill plows through allowing minors to work on farms

The U. S. House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday aimed at ensuring federal bureaucrats do not have the power in the future to propose a rule that would prevent young people from working on family farms.

At the beginning of the year, the Department of Labor proposed an update to its current regulations based on recommendations from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The proposed rules for hired farm workers under the age of 16 had intended to increase child safety but would have prohibited children under the age of 16 from employment in the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco.

Children under 16 would have been prohibited from operating almost all power-driven equipment.

The updates also would have prevented children under 18 years of age from being employed in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm-product raw products.

However, the proposed rules would not affect children working on their parent’s farms because of parent exemption.

Volunteer activities that include helping a neighbor, 4-H or FFA programs would still have be allowed as well. However, children working on others farms and student learners would have been affected by the revisions.

In April, after being bombarded by concerns about the negative impact these new rules would have on farmers, the Department of Labor announced it was backing off from the proposed regulations that would prevent some minors from working on family farms.

In an effort to ensure this type of legislation would never be proposed again, Congressman Robert Hurt (R-Virginia) cosponsored the Preserving America’s Family Farms Act that received unanimous support on the House floor Tuesday and now is headed to the Senate.

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) also cosponsored the bill.

 “Having grown up working on a farm in rural Virginia, I was alarmed to see the Department of Labor’s proposed rules which would hinder the ability of young people in Central and Southside Virginia to work in agriculture as every generation of Virginians has done since our country’s founding” Hurt said. 

“Many of our family farms are struggling across the 5th District as a result of regulations which limit their productivity, stifle job creation and threaten the future of their enterprise.

“Making it easier for our small businesses and farms to succeed, and preserving our rural values are very important to me as I serve Central and Southside Virginians in Congress,” he continued. 

“We must maintain our farmers’ ability to allow their children and grandchildren to contribute to their family businesses. This rule is but another example of federal over-reach, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that our family farms are not further negatively impacted by unnecessary red tape.”

Hurt joined House colleagues in sending a letter to Labor Department Secretary Hilda Solis, urging her to withdraw the proposed rules which greatly impact the agricultural industry in Central and Southside Virginia.

Earlier this year Halifax County Farm Bureau President Scott Crowder explained the current child labor hazardous occupation orders have not been updated since 1970.

Crowder said he understands children need to be protected and kept safe, but he also feels these regulations could have affected a child’s ability to learn a work ethic.

“No one wants to see children get hurt, but at the same time we need to teach a work ethic to our children,” Crowder said.

Numerous farmers across the 5th District told Hurt and other politicians they are capable of determining safety measures for their youth employees.

“No farmer would dare put a child in harm’s way,” Crowder said.

This spring when the Labor Department backed off the proposed regulation changes, it opted instead to develop educational programs aimed at reducing accidents involving young workers on the farm and promote “safer agricultural working practices.”