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State Senate axes farm labor bill

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The New York Farm Bureau says its members are relieved at a last minute state Senate "no" vote on a bill that would have granted certain labor rights to farm workers.

Farm Bureau President Dean Norton says the bill would have had a devastating effect on farms and the rural economy. The bill was defeated 31-28 in the Senate. The Assembly has passed many versions of the bill over the years, but it has yet to pass the Senate.

The bill was a sticking point as budget negotiations stalled this spring. And it came into play again in the political gamesmanship Tuesday.

Sen. Pedro Espada, a Bronx Democrat, had refused to come to Albany unless the farm workers rights legislation was brought to the floor. Sen. Darrell Aubertine, Democrat from Cape Vincent and chairmen of the Senate Agriculture Committee said, "that was the majority leader flexing his political muscle," and it didn't work. Martha Foley has more.

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Five upstate Democrats joined their colleagues in the Republican minority Tuesday to defeat a farm labor bill many say would have hurt New York farms, large and small.    

It would have set overtime pay rates for farm workers, limited workdays and imposed other employment regulations. Democrat Darrel Aubertine, whose family farms in Cape Vincent, was among the 'no' votes. "I'll give the advocates their due. I think it was crafted with the best of intentions, however it was crafted with very little knowledge of the day-to-day workings on a farm," Aubertine said.

The bill was widely opposed by farmers and farm groups and by upstate counties that rely on the farm economy. A similar bill was defeated in the Senate Agricultural Committee, but the issue was brought back to the Senate by the Labor Committee.

Aubertine chairs the agriculture committee. He said he doesn't think the Senate will take up this bill again. But he called the concerns advocates raise about working conditions and compensation "legitimate." "I've said time and time again that I and people on the other side of the table would be more than willing to work with them. I think there is legislative and regulation in place now to address many of the concerns that they have, but I'm still willing to give them a full, fair hearing," said Aubertine.

Aubertine and four other Democrats including David Valesky of Oneida joined 26 Republicans, including Joe Griffo of Rome and Betty Little, Queensbury, to defeat the farm labor bill after about two hours of debate.

The Farm Bureau says its members are relieved by the 'no' vote. Farm Bureau President Dean Norton said the bill would have had a devastating affect on farmers and rural economies. Similar legislation in California was defeated by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last month. Norton said New York is already a high cost farm labor state, paying workers an average of $13.82 for every $100 in food produced. The national average is $8.88.

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