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Florida House votes to loosen child labor laws

TALLAHASSEE — A controversial measure that would loosen work restrictions for 16- and 17-year-olds was approved Thursday by the Florida House.

The Republican-controlled House voted 80-35 to approve the measure (HB 49), which would eliminate a decades-old restriction on 16- and 17-year-olds working more than eight hours when school is scheduled the next day. It also would eliminate a restriction on 16- and 17-year-olds working more than 30 hours during a week when school is in session.

Bill sponsor Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach, said the bill would give teens a choice to work up to 40 hours a week and that 24 other states have adopted similar measures.

The bill “simply creates opportunity and choice, most likely for those who are already working beyond 30 hours with a side hustle, working under the table through jobs with no benefits or protections,” Chaney said.

But Democrats said the bill, which is backed by groups such as the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, would hinder students’ education. They also said, in part, it is intended to use children to address labor shortages, including shortages of immigrant workers.

“What we’re doing here is creating a cheap workforce for big business,” Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston, said.

“I’ve heard in debate that this builds character,” Bartleman added. “Well, if your kid is going to school 30, 35 hours a week and wants to work an additional 30 hours a week, that’s enough time to build character. And don’t forget they can work during the summer and during breaks beyond those hours.”

Democrats unsuccessfully proposed a series of amendments, such as proposals that would have required rest breaks every five hours for workers under 18 and required that employers provide to parents a list of their children’s duties and wages.

Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, recalled lawmakers arguing that students need additional sleep to succeed educationally when legislation passed last year to start the school day later.
“In reality, we were just pushing back school start times to get our children to be exploited for cheap labor,” Nixon said. “That is wild to me, very wild to me.”

Rep. Ashley Gantt, D-Miami, warned that children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds would be the most likely to be exploited under the changes.

“They are the ones that are going to have to make up the gap in the financial gaps of their homes,” Gantt said.

Rep. Jeff Holcomb, R-Spring Hill, countered that 99 percent of teens won’t ever work past 30 hours a week.

“Folks, we don’t need to coddle our kids,” Holcomb said. “We don’t need to wrap them in bubble wrap. We need to let them work if they want to.”

Chaney said small business owners will bend over backward to keep employees happy, and if 16- and 17-year olds aren’t happy with something, “they’ll ghost us at lunchtime.”

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee this week approved the Senate’s version of the bill (SB 1596). It would not go as far as the House bill. For example, it would not eliminate the prohibition on working more than 30 hours in a week when school is in session.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, expressed support Thursday for the Senate version.

“We want to allow students, our kids that want to work to do that,” Passidomo said. “Our number one priority is to make sure they don’t sacrifice their education time. And that they have parental consent. Real parental consent. Not the fake ones where they (teens) write them themselves.”
The Senate bill would limit 16- and 17-year-olds to working eight hours when school is the next day. Exceptions would be made for working on holidays and Sundays.

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