Child Labor Law Debate Continues To Stir Up Emotions

One FFA chapter takes action to get their point across.

Published on: Dec 6, 2011

The comment period for the new proposed rule about child labor laws in this country is over, but talk continues in farm country and rural communities as more people begin to understand the possible ramifications of the changes. The Department of Labor issues proposed rules earlier this year that could drastically change how farm youth or any rural youth are allowed to participate in farming operations or agricultural activities of any type.

The target age for most activities under the new rules as proposed would be 18 for many activities, including driving a tractor. Remember the legal age for driving a car in Indiana is 16 years, 6 months, provided you have had training. There would be an exception for the 18-year old minimum to drive tractors, but it would involve an extensive 9-hour training course. Details about the course have not been totally clarified.

According to sources the Martinsville FFA Chapter took action and collected names on a petition drive, asking the Department of Labor not to implement these rules. Ag students stand to lose several ways- in the ability to earn income, work on their own farm unless their dad is a sole proprietor, and in the ability to develop what's called a supervised agricultural experience program, which is the basis for measuring achievements, including proficiency and star agribusiness awards. Students in FFA are required to have a supervised ag experience program and keep records on it to learn those valuable skills. The program is supposed to begin during the freshman year. Most high school freshmen are only 14 years old, and what they could do to qualify as an SAE could be severely hampered if this law goes into effect.

Megan Ritter, national policy specialist for Indiana Farm Bureau, notes that while some in the farm community may see this whole debate as silly because the rules won't be enforceable, she expects that if the Department of Labor implements the changes as proposed, they will do spot checks. Anyone found not in compliance will be singled out.

A source with ties to the insurance industry says that the enforcement may happen in another, very powerful way as well. If families continue business as usual and don't abide by the changes, and the young person causes or is even involved in an accident, that's when the Department of Labor will come down hard. It may be a risk many may not choose to take, whether they think the law is ridiculous or not.

Remember right now it's only a proposed rule. Stay tuned for further updates.