Saturday, December 03, 2011

Strict definition of family farm may be sticking point for proposed rules on child farm labor

The formal comment period for the Labor Department's rules that would further limit child labor on farms ended Dec. 1, but the political debate will go on. More than 70 House members sent the department a letter saying the proposed regulation “challenges the conventional wisdom of what defines a family farm in the United States.”

The regulation would continue to exempt children working on their parents' farms, but the leader of the House group, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), told Rachel Leven of The Hill newspaper that the exemption wouldn't apply unless the parents had full ownership of the property, something that many might appear to have but do not. “It is so difficult to pass ranches or farms from generation to generation; oftentimes it’s the only retirement your parents have. So you buy the farm or the ranch from them,” Rehberg said. Paul Schlegel, a labor specialist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Leven that many families have only partial ownership of large farms because they use corporations or limited-liability companies “for tax reasons or estate purposes.”

Leven writes, "A Labor Department spokesman said 'the regulation would not impact' families who partially own or partially operate a farm. The way the current regulation is worded makes lawmakers and agriculture groups worry, however." Rehberg told her, “There’s apparently a big difference between what the rule actually says and how the Department of Labor promises to interpret it. The future of the family farm is too important to leave to the whims of how the next labor secretary or the next administration decides to interpret these rules.” (Read more

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