Montana’s senior senator has again called on the U. S. Department of Labor to use caution when looking at regulating child labor on U. S. agricultural operations.
Baucus sent a letter to Labor Secretary Linda Solis Wednesday urging the department to “exercise restraint and avoid sweeping regulations that would disrupt the operation of family farms across the nation. ”
Department of Labor spokeswoman Sonia Melendez said Wednesday that no time has been set for the issuance of the final rule on the matter.
At issue are proposed regulations on child labor in ag operations which would would exclude children younger than 16 from being hired to perform many common tasks on farms and ranches, and children younger than 18 from some.
While the proposed regulations do not cover children working on their own family’s operations, Baucus and Montana’s Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg all have expressed concern that the rules could have that effect, intended or not.
Provisions of the pro-posed rules include prohibiting any children younger than 18 from working in storing, transporting or marketing of crops, including in grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions and no one younger than 16 in any action causing pain to an animal, such as branding, castration or vaccination.
It would prohibit children younger than 18 from using electronic devices, including cellphones, while operating machinery, and would limit the ability of children younger than 16 from using most power-driven equipment.
After members of Congress including Baucus, Tester and Rehberg sent letters asking that the 60-day comment period on the proposed rules be extended, Labor moved the deadline to Dec. 1.
Melendez said the comment period did close Dec. 1
“We received more than 18,000 comments, and they are being reviewed …, ” she said. “No specific date has been set for when final rule will issued. ”
In Tuesday’s letter to Solis, Baucus writes that, under the proposed rules, some farms and ranches might lose their exempt status and other farmers and ranchers might believe they are no longer exempt and adjust their operations.
Local farmers and ranchers in October said precluding children from working on family operations would not only damage their business, but could easily kill a long-standing tradition of passing ag operations from one generation to the next.
Baucus said any changes in rules must be designed with the needs of rural ag producers in mind.
“Agriculture is the heart of Montana’s economy and provides the backbone of our world-class work ethic, ” he said in a release announcing that he had sent the letter to Solis.
In his letter, Baucus said a distinction under the Fair Labor Standards Act always has been made by Congress between child labor in agriculture and in nonagricultural employment. Labor now is acting without a congressional mandate to chhange that distinction, he wrote.
“Montana parents on family farms protect their children from inappropriately dangerous activities out of intrinsic concern for their loved ones, ” Baucus wrote to Solis. “We do not need bureaucracy to help us protect our children. ”
He specifically addressed proposed rules about the handling of livestock.
“For instance, in the West, branding and herding cattle on horseback is more than just an essential part of ranching in states like Montana — it is way of life with deep roots in our culture, ” Baucus wrote. “I urge the Department to reconsider the proposed expansion of this rule. ”
He wrote that, while he supports regulating the safety of workers and children, “this proposed rulemaking would result in uncertainty and overregulation, and would unjustifiably intervene in family decisions. I cannot support unnecessary regulations on family farmers. ”