Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Romney, in Illinois victory speech, misstates Obama administration policy on child farm labor

Photo by Steven Senne, The Associated Press
Mitt Romney easily won the Illinois presidential primary tonight, and gave a good victory speech to a national TV audience. But on at least one point, the former Massachusetts governor strayed from the facts, as he has been increasingly prone to do.

In reciting a litany of over-regulation by the Obama administration, Romney said, "They even tell farmers what their kids can do on their farms." That's not quite worthy of a "Pants on Fire" from PolitiFact, but it's worth a strong reproof from, and from us, because the plain language of it is wrong. (UPDATE, March 22: FactCheck picked up on this item and published an analysis that confirms it.)

The Obama administration initially proposed a regulation that would have allowed children under 16 to do farm work only on farms wholly owned by their parents, excluding grandparents, uncles, aunts and so on.

After farmers complained that the proposed ignored changes in corporate structure over the past few decades and the devices that farm families use to transfer ownership between generations, sometimes gradually, the Department of Labor backed off and said it would issue a rule that took those factors into account.

In the meantime, the department said its policy would revert to a 1966 federal law that prohibits children from doing certain hazardous jobs on farms but "allows children of any age who are employed by their parent, or a person standing in the place of a parent, to perform any job on a farm owned or operated by their parent or such person standing in the place of a parent," a department press release noted.

In 2002 or perhaps earlier, the department began interpreting "owned" to mean "wholly owned," and the proposed regulation would have formalized that policy, a department official said. Now, until the revised regulation is adopted, it will revert to the previous definition of "substantially owned." Asked what that phrase means, the official talked instead about the rule to come: "It clearly will allow for a variety of corporate structures and family owners of a farm while still meeting the intent of Congress that the parent is in a unique position to look out for the welfare of the child in that context."

The new rule could also apply to grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in the press release that her agency "appreciates and respects the role of parents in raising their children and assigning tasks and chores to their children on farms and of relatives such as grandparents, aunts and uncles in keeping grandchildren, nieces and nephews out of harm's way."

The bottom line? The administration did not "tell farmers what their kids can do on their farms." (Emphasis added.)


  1. Romney was not wrong because....the intent of the Obama administration was shown, but they changed direction because of the voice of the farmers. Intent!!!

  2. Anonymous12:35 PM

    It's just that the administration was *going* to regulate before the backlash.

    You can parse the "proposed" dust rules in the same way.

  3. Anonymous10:45 PM

    Splitting hairs there Al.