JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has joined with the Missouri Farm Bureau to criticize proposed federal rules restricting the farm work teens can do.
Nixon and Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst complained in a joint column submitted to newspapers that the proposed rules could bar teenagers from using power tools and ban them from baling hay or caring for animals. They called it a "misguided" proposal.
"Baling hay and doing chores are rites of passage for young people in the heartland," Nixon and Hurst said in the column distributed this past week. "Helping on the farm is how young people learn responsibility, dependability and the value of hard work. It's how we make sure the next generation is ready to take the reins of family farms."
Last September, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed revisions to child labor regulations that the agency said were designed to increase workplace protections for teens and children. The rules include prohibiting people younger than 18 from working in places such as grain elevators, silos, feed lots and auctions. Teens younger than 16 would not be able to operate most power-driven equipment.
However, federal labor officials said last month they would re-examine a portion of the rules that allow children to continue working on farms owned or operated by their parents. Federal farm labor rules have not been adjusted since 1970.
Officials have received more than 18,000 comments on the proposed rules and continue to review them. A revision could be published for public comment by early summer.
U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said the intent of the proposed rules is to protect young people.
"Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America," Solis said. "Ensuring their welfare is a priority of the department, and this proposal is another element of our comprehensive approach."
The Labor Department reported the death rate for young people working on farms is more than four times greater than other industries, and injuries tend to be more severe. The most common cause of agricultural deaths among younger workers involved farm machinery.
Concern about the proposed labor rules has been raised in several states and from several Missouri officials.
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, whose congressional district stretches from rural northeastern Missouri and south toward the Lake of the Ozarks, said the underlying premise of the proposal is wrong. He said young people should be able to help neighbors bale hay, care for livestock and do other basic farm tasks.
"Who is more concerned about the safety of the child than the parents and friends and relatives and neighbors of that individual?" said Luetkemeyer, a Republican. "Yet the government thinks they can do better than the friends and parents and relatives and friends and neighbors of the child. It's just big government run amok."
Luetkemeyer said he hopes the Labor Department will withdraw the rules. He is also co-sponsoring federal legislation with an Iowa Republican lawmaker seeking to block the proposal.
Both of Missouri's U.S. senators also oppose the proposed regulations. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, said she has worked with Republican Sen. Roy Blunt to block proposed regulations and protect the prerogatives of Missourians, including children doing farm chores.
Blunt said the restrictions would make it harder for young people to develop important agricultural skills and to learn how to safely work on the farm. He is among the co-sponsors for Senate legislation to block the rule from being finalized.
"Farmers and ranchers care deeply about the safety of their workers, but these unreasonable regulations would hurt job creators who rely on young people to assist with their day-to-day operations," Blunt said.