WASHINGTON – The House on Tuesday barred the labor secretary from imposing new safety rules for children working on farms, putting a legal stamp on a Labor Department decision to put off action on the rules.
The Labor Department announced last April that it would not go ahead with the proposed rules, saying the decision was made "in response to thousands of comments" expressing concerns about their effect on small family-owned farms. It added that the rules would not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.
But bill sponsor, Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, said that even with that assurance, legal action was necessary to make sure that federal bureaucrats in the future would not carry through with "misguided" regulatory attempts.
"The regulations imposed by the Department of Labor went beyond all common sense and would have destroyed opportunities for youth across the agricultural economy," he said.
The Labor Department spent more than a year developing the new safety rules, which expanded and tightened existing regulations governing hired farm workers under the age of 16. The rules would have banned children younger than 16, except for student learners, from operating tractors and other power-driven machines; tightened restrictions on youth working with bulls and other potentially dangerous animals; and prohibited the hiring of those under the age of 18 for jobs in grain elevators, silos and stockyards.
The rules specifically exempted children working on their parents' farms, but farm groups and farm state lawmakers said they ignored the realities of farm life and could affect children working on farms owned and operated by uncles, grandparents or other relatives.
The measure barring the new rules was approved by voice vote.
The only lawmaker to speak in opposition, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., said it "prevents a rule that has already been prevented by special interests" and which would have increased protections in an industry that is one of the most hazardous for young people.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has introduced identical legislation in the Senate.