U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) has been trying to get a face-to-face meeting with U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on proposed regulations governing child labor on farms. But she has declined, leaving it up to her staff.
He even invited her to come to Kansas and meet with farm families.
Solis did hear his objections to the proposed regulations a few weeks ago when she appeared in front of a congressional subcommittee.
However, if further attempts to convince her fail, legislative efforts are under way to keep the regulations from taking effect.
Moran, along with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), is sponsoring such legislation in the Senate to go along with legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa).
Instead of accepting the Department of Labor’s contention (as well as the Department of Agriculture’s) that the proposed regulations aren’t to worry about, Moran is fighting back.
“I’m going to worry. I’m going to worry on behalf of Kansas constituents and I am going to worry on behalf of American family farmers,” he told an AgriTalk radio audience on Tuesday. “I just see this as a huge issue.”
He called some of the provisions “terribly offensive” and symptomatic of the “ever-expanding role of government in our lives.”
Among other things, the proposed regulations would prohibit children under the age of 16 from operating certain farm machinery, working at elevations over 6 feet, or doing anything that would inflict harm on an animal.
“If the regulations are taken at their face value, a young person would be prohibited from using a battery-driven screwdriver, Moran said.
And it also raises questions about the role of government.
“If the federal government, in this case the Department of Labor, can regulate the relationship between parents and their own children working on their own farms, what is off-limits for the federal government to be involved in?’ he asked.
Officials from the Department of Agriculture point out that the regulations will not apply to children who work for their parents. Yet, questions remain as to whom the children work for in the case of farm corporations and farm partnerships, and the Department of Labor announced last month that it would re-visit the “parental exemption” clause in those cases.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has acknowledged that farm work is an American tradition “and it teaches kids lessons that last a lifetime.”
“However, statistics show that while only 4 percent of working youth are in the agricultural sector, 40 percent of fatalities of working kids are associated with machines, equipment or facilities related to agriculture. That’s way too high,” Vilsack said in December. “We don’t want to blur the line between teaching kids about a good day’s work and putting them in situations more safely handled by adults.”
Yet, it is unclear how the government would enforce such regulations.
Moran says time is getting short. He has heard that the Department of Labor intends to finalize the regulations this summer — probably July. In the meantime, people can go to the web site www.keepfamiliesfarming.com where comments are being solicited and will be forwarded to the Department of Labor.