New labor laws could drastically affect FFA and 4H programs

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by CASEY NORTON

WFAA

Posted on April 26, 2012 at 8:29 PM

CROWLEY - Proposed child labor rules have caught the attention of Texas FFA and 4H programs.

The first update to the Fair Labor Standards Act in 40 years is still under debate in Washington, D.C, with the Texas congressional delegation taking the leading role to protect the state's traditional agricultural programs.

In a news release, Texas Senator John Cornyn said the rules would "severely limit participation in 4H and FFA activities."

He joined more than 30 other senators to introduce The Preserving America's Family Farms Act. The bi-partisan group said the new child labor laws would restrict what children who work at stockyard, grain and feed facilities.

Becky DeShazo teaches ag science at Crowley ISD, and worries what happens to the future farmers of America if children can't interact with livestock until they are 18.

"The average age of the farmer is over 50, and we've got to have young people coming up and embracing this career," DeShazo said. "And to embrace it, they have to understand how to do it safely."

The Department of Labor said children on family farms would be exempt from labor rules and can do any task, no matter how hazardous, as long as their is adult supervision.

The Texas Farm Bureau said it's not clear what happens to urban farming on campus. It's tracking bills that would explicitly protect youth education programs, and children's participation in livestock shows.

There is one in the House and one in Senate, each being reviewed by committees.

The Department of Labor told News 8 it won't eliminate 4H or FFA, but the curriculum needs to be updated for the safety of students who handle livestock.

Shelton Beets, a senior at Crowley High School, wants to make his living in agriculture. He's glad he didn't have to wait until he turns 18 to get started.

"You can't just bring [in] somebody new and expect them to do a job that's going to maintain the economy," Beets said. "They have to learn it young."

The Department of Labor said the new farm rules are under review, and it expects a final version to be released "in the near future."

It says the discussion period between September 2011 and March 2012 generated more than 10,000 public comments from legislators, farmers, ranchers and educators.

When the rules are finalized, the Texas Farm Bureau says they'll be judged "tougher than the last champion steer."

E-mail cnorton@wfaa.com

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