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Gov. Whitmer vetoes family-farm fatality bill: ‘It’s incredibly disappointing’

As proposed, House Bill 4031 would amend the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act to decrease penalties for failing to report injuries or fatalities to owners or family members of family farms. Employers must report injuries within 24 hours and 8 hours for a workplace fatality. Failure to do so results in a $5,000 fine. State Rep. Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian, introduced the bill following the death of Blissfield Township farmer Keith Eisenmann in 2019 — when his widow had to pay a $12,000 fine.
Date Posted: February 14, 2022

LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently vetoed legislation meant to protect small family farms from fines after a workplace accident — like the one that happened to the Eisenmannsin 2019.

“It’s incredibly disappointing, given the amount of collaborative work that has been done on this piece of legislation in the House and Senate,” State Rep. Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian, told Michigan Farm News. “The reason I was given involved concerns with compliance with federal OSHA within the legislation.”

As proposed, House Bill 4031 would amend the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Actto decrease penalties for failing to report injuries or fatalities to owners or family members of family farms. Employers must report injuries within 24 hours and 8 hours for a workplace fatality. Failure to do so results in a $5,000 fine.

Kahle introduced the bill following the death of Blissfield Township farmer Keith Eisenmann in 2019 — when his widow had to pay a $12,000 fine.

HB 4031 passed Michigan House and Senate in 2021 with overwhelming support (29-9 and 76-25, respectively). A two-thirds vote is needed in both houses to override the veto, but Kahle said there’s another option.

“We are not giving up. We’ve already started the process of reintroducing another bill, where we are going to work more on the definition of small family farms, making absolutely sure the governor’s team is in alignment with the federal definition,” Kahle said.

“There’s already great support for this legislation. Anyone who has heard the Eisenmann story has been moved emotionally and can see that this was bureaucracy overstepping.”

While Kahle acknowledges a supermajority veto is possible, she said the better pathway is to work with the governor’s team and present a modified version of her plan.

“If it gets done in a bipartisan way, it should be done,” Kahle added. “This sort of thing resonates with everyone. This isn't political; this is about our family farmers in our state.”

According to Kahle, a request for a new draft’s already been made.

Previous legislation would have exempted family farm owners from reporting requirements in instances like the Eisenmann’s and would reduce the fine by 95%. The reintroduced version of the legislation would still accomplish those action items but will include slightly modified language.

“It’s certainly disappointing to see this legislation vetoed after receiving so much consideration and bipartisan support,” said Ben Tirrell, associate legislative counsel for Michigan Farm Bureau.

“The Eisenmann family did an incredible job of telling their story and creating awareness of this issue. We simply must keep working toward a solution. As MFB policy points out, farm operators should not be fined when they injure themselves; there just is not a rationale there.”

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