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Preserving America's Family Farms Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. WOOLSEY. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Last September, the Department of Labor published a proposed rule on children employed in agriculture. I saw it as an important regulation that would protect young people working in one of the top three most hazardous industries in the Nation--agriculture. But in May, the Department withdrew the rule. I want to say this again: in May of this year, the Department withdrew the rule.

That wasn't enough, apparently, for the Republican majority. Today, they've decided to waste precious legislative time on a bill that tells the Department of Labor not to issue this regulation--again, a regulation the Department already withdrew. Today's debate gives new meaning to the idea of government waste. Not only did the Department of Labor withdraw this rule; the administration has said it will not reissue the rule.

I was disappointed that the Department chose not to pursue the rule in the first place because the rule sought to implement specific recommendations made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, OSHA, and increase parity between the agriculture and non-agriculture child labor provisions.

Agriculture is dangerous, Mr. Speaker. Children working on farms, like their adult counterparts, work with or around toxic pesticides. They carry very heavy materials, and they use dangerous equipment. The fatality rate for child farmworkers is four times higher than for children in other industries. There are an estimated 400,000 children working on farms that are not owned by family members, and those children deserve health and safety protections. That is all this rule would have required. Children under 16 should not be permitted or required to work with hazardous pesticides or dangerous equipment--period.

But let's be clear. Nothing in the proposed rule would have applied to children working on their parents' farms in the first place. I've been a steadfast supporter of family farms throughout my 20 years in Congress. We have many family farms in California's Sixth Congressional District.

They are the important economic engine and a part of the fabric of our beautiful and diverse community.

Mr. Speaker, my intent here is simply to protect children who are in danger of being exploited and injured. The withdrawal of this rule was disappointing. Today's debate, however, is a disgrace. There are nearly 24 million Americans unemployed or underemployed. Instead of addressing the real issues that affect them, we are debating legislation that does nothing that hasn't already been done. It prevents a rule that has been already prevented by powerful special interests--and talk about a waste of taxpayer money.

With the Republican majority taking floor time with meaningless legislation like this, it's no wonder Congress has an approval rating in the low teens.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Ms. WOOLSEY. Mr. Speaker, I just want to repeat what I said in my opening remarks. Nothing in the proposed rule would have applied to children working on their parents' family farm. The proposed rule maintains the parental exemption.

But again, to remind everybody, the Department of Labor withdrew their proposal. We are wasting time today.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Ms. WOOLSEY. Again, Mr. Speaker, nothing in the proposed rule would have applied to children working on their parents' family farm, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Ms. WOOLSEY. I understand, Mr. Speaker, that we're ready to close, so I yield myself the balance of my time.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, once again, at a time when there are so many Americans looking for work and so many middle class families struggling to make ends meet, Congress has better things to do than take up a redundant bill. It's wasteful, it's unnecessary, and it prevents us from doing the real work that our constituents have sent us here to do. Let's answer the important challenges facing the country. Let's start creating jobs for the American people. Let's start now, and let's stop wasting time on something that has already been satisfied.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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