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Labor Department withdraws regs that would have limited teen farm work

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CANTON - A wave of opposition from lawkmakers, farmers and residents from New York state helped fuel a national grassroots effort to withdraw proposed regulations from the U.S. Department of Labor preventing children from working on family-owned farms and operating hazardous equipment.

The regulations, which the department withdrew Thursday, would have banned children younger than 16 from performing hazardous work on farms owned by relatives other than their parents, including the use of tractors and other power-driven equipment.

Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, began fighting to nix the regulations last year after hearing about them at a public meeting in Watertown, where a 10-year-old boy said he could be prevented from working on his family’s farm. He also heard similar concerns from farmers in St. Lawrence County,

Calling the regulations “out of touch,” Mr. Owens said farmers are already doing an excellent job training their children at an early age.

“This is an example of a bad regulation with a good intention,” Mr. Owens said. “The department was not in touch with what was happening on the ground.”

Mr. Owens said the regulations could have had a widespread impact on the 36,000 family-owned farms throughout New York state that rely on young workers for labor.

“It could have had a dramatic impact on small farms and even large farms, and we were happy to get it withdrawn quickly,” he said.

Lawmakers partnered with the New York Farm Bureau to get the word out to the public. After the effort was under way, Congress received thousands of letters from farmers across the country opposing the regulations, said Farm Bureau spokesman Matt Nelligan. He called the withdrawal of the regulations a “grassroots victory.”

“This is a great example of how out of touch the federal government can be,” Mr. Nelligan said. “These regulations were so bizarre, and they struck at the center of farmers’ way of life, making them reach out to elected officials. People from across the state and all walks of life were opposing it.”

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