|FEBRUARY 4, 2012 --
It’s not often that I express pride towards our elected officials in Congress. After all, their approval rating currently stands at an all time low of 11%. However, yesterday I attended a Congressional hearing on the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed regulations to amend current child labor laws as they apply to agriculture and left feeling very proud of the men and women sitting on the committee…well…most of them. If you haven’t read my past blogs on the issue, the DOL has concluded that youth who work in agriculture are among the most “vulnerable” workers in America and are trying to limit what they can do on our nation’s farms and ranches. Specifically, they are trying to limit the ability of our youth to operate farm machinery, assist in the farm-product raw materials wholesale trade industry, and be in close-proximity to large farm animals. Obviously, this has not gone over well with the rural community, and yesterday’s hearing made that incredibly obvious.
Testimony began with a nice woman from the DOL who arrived to speak on behalf of the Department’s new proposal, and to essentially sell it to everyone in the room…I don’t believe she was successful. Of the ten members who sit on the House Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade, only seven of them spoke on the matter. We were also joined by Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-MT), who does not sit on the committee but comes from a very rural area of Montana and felt the need to speak against the proposal…and boy did he ever. After the woman from the DOL concluded her testimony, the committee members were given the opportunity to ask questions or make comment.
I wont give you a play by play of the hearing, that would be long and tedious, but of all the members who spoke; Tipton, Chu, Critz, Rehberg, Bartlett, King, and Schilling, only Chu arrived to speak in favor of the proposal. The rest of the gentlemen had some very specific objections, primarily that it interferes with the daily operations of America’s family farms, and that the federal government has no business meddling in the lives of rural Americans. I was surprised to find that most of the Congressmen present had themselves been raised in rural America- especially Rehberg who still owns and operates a ranch in Montana. Once given the chance to speak, Rehberg informed the young lady from the DOL that her Department “doesn’t know agriculture” or anything about farm life, and that their proposal is “out of line, and lacks common sense.” However, my favorite comment from Rehberg was that the people at the Department of Labor “had seen Blazing Saddles too many times” and are letting that misguided opinion of rural America form their nonsensical regulations. Frankly, I wanted to stand up and clap.
My second favorite quote of the day came from Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD). He began his dialogue by informing everyone in the room that he was born in 1926, grew up in the Depression, and has no idea how kids today ever learn a work ethic. He said, “rural kids know how to work” and kids in urban areas are too busy “watching TV and smoking God knows what.” Again, I wanted to stand up and clap. However, his best point, and one that hadn’t been made before, was that parents are far more concerned for their children’s safety and well being than the DOL. In my opinion, he’s absolutely right. What can the Department of Labor do to protect children that their own parents couldn’t or wouldn’t do- absolutely nothing! Bartlett went on to say that most regulations are unnecessary because consumers aren’t stupid, and these proposed regulations are just more of the same.
The rest of the gentlemen on the committee had very similar things to say, and when all was said and done it was very apparent to those present that the DOL’s proposals are unfavorable and disliked at best. The committee asked that they simply withdraw their proposed regulations and we all go about our business. We’ll see if that happens. No matter how this turns out, I left the hearing feeling proud of our guys in Congress…or at least some of them. They didn’t fold, they didn’t sugarcoat their comments, and they didn’t try to negotiate. They stood up for rural America, put their foot down, and told the DOL what they needed to hear- that while their intensions are good, they’re better off sticking to issues they know something about and leaving rural America alone.
National Grange Programs Assistant