Labor Dep't drops regulations banning kids from working on farms other than parents'

Alternate headline: “Obama administration decides against picking pointless, hugely politically perilous fight in election year.”

“The decision to withdraw this 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,” the Department said in a press release Thursday evening. “To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.” [Translation: “Please, please let’s forget about this.” — ed.]

The rule would have dramatically changed what types of chores children under the age of 16 could perform on and around American farms. It would have prohibited them from working with tobacco, operating almost all types of power-driven equipment and being employed to work with raw farm materials.

“Prohibited places of employment would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions,” read a press release from last August…

Parents and children who grew up on farms across the country told TheDC that the rule was overprotective and would have prevented kids from learning valuable skills at early ages.


We didn’t blog this yesterday but I think part of the reason the original story broke big online was that some readers thought the regs would have barred kids from working on their own parents’ farm. Not so. See Doug Mataconis’s piece at Outside the Beltway clarifying that point. In fact, if you read down into Wednesday’s DC piece, it notes right there that there’s a parental exemption to the regulations. The concern was (a) that kids would be barred from doing “hazardous” chores for extended family like uncles and grandparents and (b) that the exemption might only apply to farms that are wholly owned by a child’s parents and not farms in which they own merely a share. Not sure that fear was well founded, though:

“It’s good the Labor Department rethought the ridiculous regulations it was going to stick on farmers and their families,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. “To even propose such regulations defies common sense, and shows a real lack of understanding as to how the family farm works.”

The surprise move comes just two months after the Labor Department modified the rule in a bid to satisfy opponents. The agency made it clear it would exempt children who worked on farms owned or operated by their parents, even if the ownership was part of a complex partnership or corporate agreement

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a grain farmer known to till his fields on weekends away from Washington, had come out strongly against the proposed rule. The Democrat continued to criticize the Obama administration rule even after it was tempered earlier this year, saying the Labor Department “clearly didn’t get the whole message” from Montana’s farmers and ranchers.


What if several generations of a family own a farm together but don’t have the right type of ownership agreement? Who knows? Don’t sweat the details, though. The takeaway from this story is that someone in the Labor Department actually thought the White House would let them construct a “big liberal government clamping down on family farms in the heartland” narrative for the GOP six months out from a presidential election. I’m actually surprised it took them a whole day to back down. Presumably Axelrod had to wait to call Hilda Solis because he was literally rendered speechless.

Coming soon from the Labor Department, presumably: Exciting new regulations on mom and apple pie.

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