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Legislators Need To Remember They Have A Real World Impact

Another week has gone by and we have another example of poorly written legislation by the New York state Legislature.

This week, we’re talking about language in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget to clarify the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act passed last year in a process that, once again, put politics ahead of legislative polish.

There is an exemption from the farm labor bill’s provisions for a farm owner’s children. Of course, had anyone in the state Capitol spent much time listening to farmers when crafting the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act, they would know that more than 20% of state farms have no succession plan in place — meaning no children to help work the farm. That means farm work is often spread on small farms to a farm owners nieces, nephews and grandchildren. The way the law is written, there is no exemption for those family members.

In addition, the Farm Bureau is seeking to alter language in the farm labor bill to properly recognize that farms have professional level employees, including farm managers, who should continue to receive salaried wages rather than be subject to 60-hour overtime provisions and other stipulations in the law.

“I am (optimistic) and I believe we can get there on that,” Richard Ball, state agriculture commissioner, said last week during a legislative budget committee hearing. “Going to the third level of consanguinity (level of family) is an important fix initially. I think some more additional discussions need to be held around salaried workers, etc., but I’m quite confident we can get there.”

Shouldn’t we already be there? Shouldn’t we have been there last June when the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act was passed? It’s not as if Democrats didn’t have time. The majority of the bill had been languishing in the state Assembly for at least three years. For all of the politicking and backroom negotiations that made the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act into state law, shouldn’t someone have thought to run the definitions used in the bill by someone?

It is ridiculous that legislation which spent three years in the legislative process can be passed with immense fanfare only to realize later that the definition of the word employees is unfairly limiting. State legislators need to realize that the laws they pass have tremendous impact in the real world. Farmers readying their land for planting this spring need to know what their labor costs will be, and right now the state’s continued dithering over the farm labor bill is only making those budgeting and planning decisions more difficult.

Making these necessary changes to the Farm Laborers Fair Practices Act should be the first order of business for Cuomo and the state Legislature this week. There is no reason this fix needs to wait until the budget is passed to be made law.

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