Ag News -
National Ag News
Tuesday, 27 March 2012 18:10
By Eric Schelzig
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The House on Monday passed a bill declaring that Tennessee wouldn't enforce federal regulations governing child labor on family farms.
The chamber voted 70-24 to approve the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby in response to rules being considered by the U.S. Labor Department.
"I believe it's incumbent on us as legislators to stand up against big D.C., big government and say enough is enough," Faison said in remarks on House floor. "And I'm hoping other state will join in and say you've gone far enough."
"The Department of Labor in D.C. is doing everything they can to destroy America and the fiber of America," he said. "And they're coming after the farmers."
The federal agency has said its goal is to better protect children who are more vulnerable to injury when performing tasks like driving tractors. The fatality rate for farm workers aged 15 to 17 is four times higher than in non-farm industries, according to a study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
But farm groups complained that the initial rules proposed last year would upset traditions where children often work alongside their parents and relatives to learn how a farm operates.
The Labor Department last month agreed to modify the plan to include broader exemptions for children whose parents are part owners or operators of farms. The rules would ban children younger than 16 from using most power-driven equipment, and those younger than 18 from working in feed lots, grain bins and stockyards.
Several Democrats during the floor debate urged Faison to await the final version of the regulations before proceeding with his bill. They also questioned whether the state can just ignore federal regulations.
"Are you sure that we as a state are empowered to simply tell the Department of Labor that we're not going to follow particular child labor laws that we don't like?" asked Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.
Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, said the bill doesn't seek to nullify the federal requirements. But the state wouldn't offer any of its "limited resources" to help enforce the regulations, he said.
"If they want to do it, they're going to be on their own," he said, "Good luck coming to us asking for help enforcing those."
The companion bill is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.