The cost of state inspections adds up to a burden on Ohio farmers, one legislator said.
By MICHELE C. HLADIK
COLUMBUS -- Buses used for agriculture are different from commercial buses and should be treated differently, according to supporters of legislation aimed at removing state inspection requirements for farm buses.
"The use of these buses is a completely different animal," said state Rep. John Hagan, sponsor of the legislation.
The Marlboro Township Republican said the farm buses are merely used in low-speed situations and short distances, such as from home to farm or field to field. Tuesday, Hagan presented sponsor testimony to the Ohio House of Representatives Transportation and Public Safety Committee.
He told the committee the cost of the inspections as well as the cost to travel and the time for the inspections add up to a burden on Ohio farmers. He said some Stark County farmers must drive their buses 90 miles to the nearest inspection site. That is nearly one-fifth the total mileage they put on the buses in a year, he said.
Oversight: According to Hagan, the bill is necessary because of an oversight in legislation passed during the last general assembly. That legislation required all commercial buses to receive state inspections, but it did not exclude farm buses, Hagan said.
He said this was done for the convenience of commercial bus owners.
But it is not convenient or inexpensive for farmers, according to Hagan and members of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation Inc.
A farm bus "has a different function than say a Greyhound," said Deering Dyer, director of local affairs for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation Inc.
What they're for: The buses are typically used by nurseries, fruit farms and vegetable farms to transport employees or migrant workers. According to John Wargowsky, director of labor services for the Farm Bureau, the buses can typically hold anywhere from 10 or 15 workers to about 200, depending on the size of the operation.
Dyer said the current inspections could get costly for farms with more than one bus.
"The cost could be prohibitive," said Wargowsky.
He added the expense isn't always in the licensing, but in the need for new buses to meet those requirements.
"The intent is to avoid unnecessary costs," Wargowsky said.
He said the intent isn't to allow farmers a cheaper way to use migrant farming or to take advantage of migrant workers.
"It's a common sense approach to help keep these kind of businesses in Ohio," he said.
Wargowsky said it would also help the state's economy while keeping employees safe.
According to Hagan, the farm buses will still be required to meet standards for being "on the road" and will still be required to be inspected for safety and keep safety inspection information on hand. But instead of going off property to have the buses inspected, they may be inspected by an employee or mechanic of the farm, he said.
Federal guidelines: Farm buses also fall under federal safety guidelines, including the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, according to Wargowsky.
"There are plenty of safety standards that can be enforced," he said. "One thing we are committed to doing is helping employees do the right thing."
Hagan said the issue was brought to his attention by the Farm Bureau and a farmer from his area, but the issue affects less than 5 percent of Ohio farms.