Washington rule threatens Wyoming’s rural values

By U.S. Senator John Barrasso, M.D.

Washington’s burdensome rules and regulations are some of the biggest obstacles facing our farming and ranching communities. Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers should be focused on running their operations, not dealing with the Obama Administration’s bureaucratic red tape. One particular Washington rule that needs to be eliminated comes out of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

In September 2011, the DOL proposed changes to the “Fair Labor Standards Act.” The changes would ban youth from working on many common farm-related activities. A few examples of the proposed changes include prohibiting children under 16 from herding cattle on horseback, participating in the branding or vaccinating of cattle, operating almost all power-driven equipment, or working on a ladder more than six feet high. To most young people who grow up on a farm or ranch in Wyoming, these tasks are an important part of their daily routine.

These new rules clearly show that Washington does not have a real understanding of the work that is done on farms and ranches across the nation. There is a provision in these rules exempting a child who works directly for his or her parent. However, there is no exemption for youth working on farms owned by extended family members such as grandparents, uncles, or cousins. Working alongside grandparents and neighbors provides youth with hands on experience and teaches them the value of hard work, personal responsibility and perseverance. Now, Washington is attempting to take away these invaluable experiences and opportunities.

The Obama Administration is also trying to do away with successful farm safety training and certification programs like 4-H, Extension Service, and FFA. These programs play a crucial role in educating, training and certifying young people to safely carry out farm activities in rural communities across Wyoming and the country. By eliminating these training opportunities, it will actually increase the risk of injury for our youth. It is important that we have these programs in order to train kids at a young age and instill in them a deeper understanding and appreciation of agriculture.

Farming and ranching organizations and rural communities across the country have voiced their overwhelming opposition to Washington’s restrictive new rules. In December 2011, 29 other U.S. Senators and I wrote Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and called on the department to withdraw these proposed regulations. The DOL recently agreed to re-propose one portion of the rule related to the parental exemption. Although it is good to hear the DOL recognizes the concerns with this specific provision, their actions do not go far enough and fail to remedy the other glaring problems.

If this rule goes forward, many of Wyoming’s family farms and ranches will lose an important part of their way of life. Our country cannot afford to lose the next generation of farmers and ranchers. The number of people pursuing careers in agriculture is already dwindling. These rules only make it harder for young people to learn the skills needed to one day fill the shoes of retiring farmers and ranchers. In order to protect Wyoming’s rural values and ensure the future of our agricultural communities, I will continue to fight for these destructive regulations to be eliminated.