Videos & Speeches

Madam President, I am here today to raise once again a topic about how we raise, our youth, our children in rural America, and I want to talk for a few moments about the proposed Department of Labor child farm labor rules.

   Last week, we had perhaps what would be considered a piece of good news. The Department of Labor announced that they would withdraw and repropose the parental exemption portion of their proposed child labor rules. I am worried, however, despite this good news, there are still a lot of, a lot of consequences that will occur as a result of the proposed rules that are not being withdrawn, and there is no suggestion they are going to be reproposed.

   The thing I want to make clear to my colleagues is that while the Department of Labor announced that they were going to withdraw a portion of the rules, unfortunately, the majority of what is going to be offensive, difficult, and a challenge for our way of life in rural America remains.

   Last year, the department of Labor proposed a set of rules on their own volition--no direction by Congress—to but in place restrictions upon a person’s ability to worn on a farm. Restrictions upon a young person's ability to work on a farm, including their own family’s farm. What we are talking about here is youth less than 16 years of age. Those rules, as proposed, would actually restrict the ability of a son or daughter to work on their parents' farm.

   The current rule is that if your parents own a substantial interest of that farming operation, you can work on your family's farm. The rules as proposed by the DOL are going to narrow that definition, as follows: If your family operates in a family farming corporation or a limited liability company, these new restrictions would apply. Fortunately, that portion of the proposed rules the Department of Labor has withdrawn, and I assume will be reproposing what their definition of a family farm is.

   The point I want to make is that so much of the proposed rules yet remain, and the remaining portions of the rules still threaten to fundamentally alter agriculture as we know it today. If the DOL rules, as now proposed, go forward, as they currently stand the education and training for the next generation of farmers and ranchers will be severely disrupted.

   We’ve relied upon 4-H, FFA, and county extension programs to provide farm safety training and certification for a long time.

The Department of Labor now says they no longer want those programs to qualify because they are too local. They want a national standard. They want to replace with a Department of Labor safety training program what has traditionally and very effectively occurred through 4-H, FFA, and county extension programs.

   The Department has, in my view, ignored research that shows the programs we currently have in place with FFA and 4-H and county extension improve the safety habits of young people, and instead criticizes these training programs for being too locally driven and lacking Federal direction. Their solution is to nationalize these programs and have them run by the United States  Department of Labor. In my view, local experts in our high schools, our FFA programs, and our 4-H clubs should be the ones conducting training programs and educate our young people. And parents and communities should be allowed to look after the best interests of their families and their communities and citizens.

   The Department of Labor, in addition to attacking the programs that are in place, that are valuable to us in rural America, is also proposing to change the so-called agricultural hazard occupations. The proposed rules would prohibit a young person under the age of 16 from participating--even with the certification and safety training from the Department of Labor they would be prohibited from doing such things as rounding up cattle on horseback or operating a tractor.

  The proposed rules say you cannot be involved in production agriculture if you are more than 6 feet off the ground.

   In today's environment, in today's agriculture, tractors and combines are 6 feet off the ground.

   You can't clean out a stall with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. Those are things I am sure the 15-year-old does not want to do, but they are things important to a family's farming operation, they are important to agriculture and a value to a young person in their training and developing skills that are important to them for the rest of their life.

   They can't work in a pen with a bull or mama cow. Here is one that really stands out to me: No engaging or assisting in animal husbandry that ``inflict pain upon the animal,'' such as branding, breeding, dehorning, vaccinating, castrating, or treating sick animals. The ``inflicting pain'' restriction sounds like something more than an interest--``inflicting pain'' sounds like a different standard than really worrying about the young person's safety. These are important tasks that have to be done on a farm and that young people can safely do.

   One example, one additional example, that stands out to me is that they are suggesting in the rules that they would limit a young person's exposure to direct sunlight if the temperature reaches a certain limit once you factor in wind velocity and humidity. How does that work in the practical world of agriculture and farming today? For someone in Washington, DC, to propose rules that restrict a young person's ability to work on a neighbor's farm because of the amount of sunlight, wind velocity, and humidity is something that again, in my view, demonstrates a lack of understanding about how things work in the real world.

   One would assume that the Department of Labor, before making such drastic changes to farm labor rules, would have identified reliable evidence and data to show the need for changes. In fact, the Department of Labor admits it lacks the data to justify many of its suggested changes.

   Furthermore, according to the National Farm Medicine Center, youth-related injuries from farm accidents have declined nearly 60 percent from 1998 to 2009. I have no doubt that if you ask a farmer or a rancher about the importance of safety, they would tell you that safety is a top concern, especially when they are dealing with a young person. But they would also tell you that critical to a rural way of life is being able to train and encourage the next generation to safely and successfully pursue careers in agriculture. If today's young person is not given the chance to learn at a young age what it takes to operate a farm, we put at risk the future of agriculture in our Nation.

      I have always had a strong interest in agriculture. The economy of my State of Kansas revolves in many ways around the success of farmers and ranchers. Communities across our State are dependent upon the success, the profitability of production agriculture. But I also have known and strongly believe there is something more than just economics to family farms. This is the way that historically, in our country, in our Nation's history, we have transmitted our character, our values, our integrity, our love of life, and our understanding of how things work from generation to generation. It has worked. It has been an important component of our country's history, who we are as American people

   Today, across Kansas, when I visit with business owners, they tell me they love to hire farm kids because they have a different characteristic, a different makeup, a set of standards that is different from other people. They learn something about reliability and that work does not get done if you do not show up, that it is not about punching the clock to check in and to check out, that a calf is born at times that are inconvenient to the farmer. There is just a different set of characteristics that a young person develops by growing up and working on a family farm. If these changes go into effect--and the rule as

proposed is being considered, and it is expected we will have an answer in several months from the Department of Labor as to what the final regulations will be--if these rules go into effect as they are written, not only will we see a shrinking rural workforce, but our Nation's youth will be deprived of valuable career-training opportunities and a certain way of life many of us highly value will disappear.

   It is important to us as a country--certainly to a State such as mine--that a young person experience the value of farming. I do not know how many times you talk to somebody who has determined what their career is going to be based on an experience they had as a young person and their ability to know what they want to do with their life is determined by the experiences they had as a young child. Our country cannot afford to lose the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

   This rule should be withdrawn in its entirety. We know that rural America's values are not always Washington values, and in the weeks ahead I ask my colleagues and Americans across the country to express their opposition to the Department of Labor for this destructive rule. Do not allow it to move forward so we can protect our values for the next generation of American farmers and make sure rural America remains a great place to live, grow, and raise a family.

   I yield the floor.