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WASHINGTON, D.C.–U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) this week led 30 of their colleagues in asking U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to allow farmers and ranchers adequate time to comment on a proposed rule that would limit their ability to hire youth to work in agriculture, and threaten the education and training of future farmers. At issue are the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which fail to take into account the history and practices of American agriculture. Included in the proposed rule change is a ban on youth under age 15 from working on a farm or ranch not directly owned by their parents. It is common in rural America for siblings to jointly own and operate farms, and for extended family and neighbors to participate in agriculture production.

The senators have asked for a 60-day extension of the comment period on the proposed changes given that the current comment period falls during the fall harvest season. This is the busiest time of year for agricultural producers – the group that would be most impacted by the proposed rule changes. Sen. Moran and his colleagues believe farmers and ranchers were given inadequate notice and insufficient time to comment on a rule that could fundamentally disrupt agriculture practices across the country.

“Not only would this regulation, as currently drafted, have far reaching effects on youth agricultural education programs, farms, ranches and other agricultural businesses, it could greatly impact the structure of family farms and rural communities in the states we represent,” the Senators state in a letter to Secretary Solis. “It is particularly concerning that DOL would publish a proposed rule in September and set the comment period during the fall harvest season. To allow agriculture producers a reasonable amount of time to consider the proposed regulation and comment, the senators ask DOL to allow, at a minimum, an additional 60 days for farmers, ranchers and others to comment."

The rule change also proposes new restrictions on the type of activities younger farm workers would be allowed to perform and would limit the ability of the Cooperative Extension Service and vocational education programs, like 4-H and FFA, to offer training to rural youth. It is unclear whether DOL is attempting to restrict by regulation long-standing law that exempts family farms from labor regulations.

“At a time when Kansas farm and ranch operations are already concerned about the lack of a capable workforce, the Department of Labor’s proposed regulations would only further deplete necessary labor resources,” said Kansas Farm Bureau President Steve Baccus. “Generations of Kansas farmers and ranchers have learned equipment safety and land stewardship through on-site training. The future of agriculture in Kansas requires a passionate, skilled workforce that is being threatened bureaucrats in Washington."

“In towns from coast to coast, consumers enjoy a safe and affordable food supply due to the efficiency and performance of America's family farmers, but the Department of Labor’s proposed regulations threaten the future of our industry,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. “In addition to being the economic backbone of so many of America’s towns, the traditions and the work ethic associated with growing up on a family farm are worth preserving, and the American Farm Bureau Federation appreciates Sens. Moran and Nelson for taking the lead on this important issue."

In addition to Sens. Moran and Nelson, the letter is signed by U.S. Senators Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), John Thune (R-S.D.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over DOL recently sent a similar letter with 77 of his House colleagues about their concerns with the rule.


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