Oklahoma farmers, Republican lawmakers praise Obama decision to back off new child farm labor rules

Oklahoma lawmakers and agriculture leaders are praising a decision by President Barack Obama's administration to back off plans that would keep children from doing the most dangerous farm jobs.
FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS Published: April 28, 2012
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Oklahoma lawmakers and agriculture leaders are praising a decision by the Obama administration to back off plans that would keep children from doing the most dangerous farm jobs.

Under pressure from farm groups and lawmakers from rural states, the U.S. Labor Department said it is withdrawing proposed rules that would ban children younger than 16 from using most power-driven farm equipment, including tractors.

The rules also would have prevented those younger than 18 from working in feed lots, grain silos and stockyards.

Jack Staats, supervisor of agriculture education for Oklahoma and state adviser to the National FFA Organization, said Thursday's late decision was an “intelligent” one that will help preserve an economic base for rural communities and families.

He said the proposed rules would have compounded a farm labor shortage in rural Oklahoma and kept a lot of teenagers from contributing to their family income.

“We were scared to death,” Staats said Friday. “We have young people involved in every level, from harvesting wheat to baling hay to showing a steer. If we couldn't work with them if they were under 16 years of age, that would really have a tremendous impact on our programs as far as what we're able to teach young people.”

Political target

The plan specifically excluded children who work on their parents' farms.

But it still became a popular political target for farmers and Republicans, who called it an impractical, heavy-handed regulation that ignored the reality of small farms.

“I am pleased that common sense finally prevailed and the Department of Labor withdrew its burdensome, misguided proposed rule,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. “This proposed rule created great angst in the countryside about the impact it would have had on the future of the family farm.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said family farms are a “vital part of our nation's economy, and they are the bedrock of rural American values and qualities like hard work, determination and ingenuity.”



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