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Letter to Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) today urged Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to withdraw the Department's misguided proposal to limit the participation of youth in farming and ranching activities.

The DOL's rulemaking, initiated without congressional authorization, will have significant negative consequences for family farms and ranches and the training provided by 4-H and FFA. The rule places new federal limitations on the work young people can perform on farms and ranches, including operating tractors and handling livestock. It also narrows the exemption from federal rules enjoyed by family farms and ranches.

Raised on the family ranch herself, Lummis told Secretary Hilda Solis, "There may be good intentions behind your proposal, but that does not justify this federal intrusion into the livelihood of America's farming and ranching community, of which I am a proud member. Agriculture is at once an occupation, a way of life and a cultural asset of rural communities. It is a complex and technologically-advanced trade, the perpetuation of which is critical to meet rapidly increasing global demand for a safe and reliable food supply. America's agricultural tradition is based on the intergenerational transfer of skills and knowledge, most of which must be obtained through hands-on experience.

"Your proposed rule imposes new limits on youth operation and maintenance of tractors and other equipment, interaction with livestock, and herding on horseback. What your rules don't recognize is that supervised exposure to these tools and activities is the most effective way to instill safe practices. The notion that the federal government knows better than an experienced farmer or rancher how to acclimate young people to agriculture is beyond comprehension."

The full text of the letter follows:

December 15, 2011

The Honorable Hilda Solis

Secretary of Labor

200 Constitution Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20210

Dear Secretary Solis,

I write to request the withdrawal of your Department's pending proposal to limit the participation of youth in farming and ranching activities (RIN 1235-AA06). The proposed rule should be immediately withdrawn because it does not comport with the realities of life on the family farm and ranch.

There may be good intentions behind your proposal, but that does not justify this federal intrusion into the livelihood of America's farming and ranching community, of which I am a proud member. Agriculture is at once an occupation, a way of life and a cultural asset of rural communities. It is a complex and technologically-advanced trade, the perpetuation of which is critical to meet rapidly increasing global demand for a safe and reliable food supply. America's agricultural tradition is based on the intergenerational transfer of skills and knowledge, most of which must be obtained through hands-on experience.

Your proposed rule imposes new limits on youth operation and maintenance of tractors and other equipment, interaction with livestock, and herding on horseback. What your rules don't recognize is that supervised exposure to these tools and activities is the most effective way to instill safe practices. The notion that the federal government knows better than an experienced farmer or rancher how to acclimate young people to agriculture is beyond comprehension.

Because you propose to concurrently narrow the general parental exemption, the impact of these new restrictions will extend to a broad swath of family operations. Your interpretation of the law would limit the exemption to operations wholly-owned by a parent, which fails to acknowledge significant changes in farm and ranch ownership patterns over the years. Many operations are owned partly by other relatives under business arrangements that would not be covered by your interpretation.

I also take issue with your proposals to limit training opportunities provided by 4-H, the National FFA Organization (FFA) and similar organizations. These long-standing youth training traditions are successful in part because of their intimate relation to rural communities and the needs of local agriculture. I am disturbed by your Department's criticism of this locally-determined approach and attempt to replace it with Washington-driven standards.

Finally, as a Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, I am concerned that you have embarked on this rulemaking in the absence of congressional direction. Your purported goal of "parity" between agricultural and nonagricultural sectors actually runs counter to congressional direction, which for decades has recognized the uniqueness of agricultural occupations by creating agriculture-specific rules in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Please withdraw your proposed rule and refrain from other pursuits of "parity" in the absence of congressional direction.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and timely response. Please contact me or my staff should you require any clarification of my request.

Sincerely,

Cynthia M. Lummis

Member of Congress


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