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'An opportunity to correct a wrong' — Rep. Neyer's farm fatality bill passes House

State Rep. Jerry Neyer spoke at the state Capitol Feb. 29 about his bill to give leniency to grieving family farmers who may experience a workplace death of a family member. Image credit: Courtesy photo
Date Posted: March 5, 2024

The Michigan House of Representatives has approved legislation that would significantly reduce fines against family farms that don’t properly report a workplace death of an immediate family member.

Sponsored by Rep. Jerry Neyer, R-Shepherd, the bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and has been backed by Michigan Farm Bureau since it was introduced in October 2023. HB 4011 is the freshman lawmaker’s first bill to make it through the Democrat-controlled House.

Under the legislation, family farms will still have to report workplace fatalities — but the fines for failing to properly do so within an eight-hour window would be reduced by 80% if the family farm does not have any prior violations.

Neyer decided to work on the issue following a 2019 incident in which the widow of Blissfield Township farmer Keith Eisenmann was forced to pay a $12,000 fine after his accidental death.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) requires employers to report any employee workplace death within eight hours.  

“The intent of the law was to protect employees, but MIOSHA has discretion, and in this case, the state clearly failed to recognize the unique circumstances. They went with a strict interpretation,” Neyer said.

“It wasn’t just an employee who died, it was an immediate family member. No one in that kind of situation is going to be thinking about filing paperwork with the state in the first eight hours. They’re going to be in shock. Anyone applying common sense can see that.”

Being a dairy farmer himself, Neyer took a particular interest in the situation because of his firsthand understanding of the issues involved. He served for more than 20 years on the boards of the Isabella County Farm Bureau and United Dairy Industry of Michigan prior to being elected to the state legislature in 2022.

“Farming is a hazardous occupation, and this was a tragic situation,” Neyer added. “I saw it as an opportunity to correct a wrong.”

A similar bill was approved by the Legislature last term but was vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer due to a technical issue. Neyer’s bill addresses Whitmer’s objection by clarifying the definition of a family farm and makes it clear the change would only apply to the loss of an immediate family member.

Neyer said he originally wanted to also extend the reporting deadline from eight hours to seven days but dropped that part due to concerns that making that change could conflict with federal OSHA rules.

He plans to work with Congressman John Moolenaar on getting the reporting timeframe changed.

“This was a good first step,” Neyer said. “This will provide some leniency to grieving family members.”

MFB has strongly supported creating a logical exemption from MIOSHA injury and fatality reporting penalties when those incidents involve owner/operators, according to MFB Legislative Counsel Ben Tirrell.

“It’s encouraging to see the legislature once again take up this important bill in a bipartisan way,” Tirrell said. “We truly appreciate all of Rep. Neyer’s efforts in continuing to champion this issue.”