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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

2024 Florida Legislative session preview: Florida's child labor laws

 A person tears a labor with the words "Child Labor"
Unsplash
A person tears a labor with the words "Child Labor"

Florida lawmakers will consider a proposal to loosen the state's child labor laws. Supporters say it will encourage more youth labor participation and teach responsibility, while opponents see it as a pathway to use kids to shore up the state's labor shortages.

Florida lawmakers will consider a proposal to loosen the state's child labor laws. Supporters say it will encourage more youth labor participation and teach responsibility, while opponents see it as a pathway to use kids to shore up the state's labor shortages. Below is a Q&A on the bill.

A piece of legislation pending in the legislature would the state’s child labor laws. What, exactly, does it do? 

House Bill 49, which is sponsored by Republican Tampa Rep. Linda Chaney, essentially removes the limits imposed on when 16, and 17-year-olds can work in Florida. Currently, they can’t work more than eight hours on days before school, can't work more than 30-hour weeks during the school year, and can't work past 11 on a school night unless granted a special exemption by a judge. The bill nixes all of those requirements.

Several other states have had similar proposals. What’s behind this push? Where did it come from? 

Over a dozen states have introduced or passed legislation rolling back minor labor protections over the past two years. A Florida-based conservative think tank called the Foundation for Government Accountability has had a hand in the drafting and passing of several of those bills, from Iowa to Missouri.

Reporting from the labor-advocacy group More Perfect Union and Jason Garcia of the Seeking Rents substack uncovered documents showing the Foundation is behind the original draft of the Florida bill.

The think tank has influence all the way to the very top of the state’s government. Dick Uihlein, a billionaire whose foundation bankrolls a third of the foundation’s budget, has also given millions to Gov. Ron DeSantis over the course of his political career.

Why are these changes happening now? 

Florida, like many other states around the country, is currently in the middle of a significant worker shortage. Currently, for every 100 job openings there are only 53 people looking for work.

Critics of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled legislature have blamed an immigration law passed last session that cracked down on undocumented workers in the state as only exasperating that problem, and view this bill as one of the ways the state is trying to fix it.

What’s been the result of this in other places? And are there any concerns being raised here in Florida? By whom? 

The national push for labor law changes comes as minor labor violations have skyrocketed. The number of annual violations found by the U.S. Department of labor has risen to almost 4,000 cases, a 283% increase from 2015.

Groups that have come out against the bill, like the Florida Policy Institute, are concerned the measure frees employers to schedule 16, and 17-year-olds to work longer hours and later shifts on school nights regardless of what the employee wants, placing teens who are juggling school and jobs to help support their families in a difficult position.

What are Florida lawmakers saying about this? 

It currently has only been heard at one committee stop, where it was approved along party lines. Rep. Chaney, the bill's sponsor, argued in committee that the bill aligns the state’s child labor standards with hour restrictions with federal law and 24 other states, saying that the current law is stricter.

During committee debates, Democrat Rep. Susan Valdes pointed out that the federal child labor protections were passed in 1938, and Florida in the past specifically enacted laws to provide stronger child labor protections in modern times. Valdes and other democrats argued the bill is going to open up opportunities for employers to exploit minors in the workplace.

Others, like Democratic Rep. Ashley Gantt, argued the bill contradicts the parental rights trend in the past several legislative session by giving parents no ability to control whether their child can work late-night shifts or long hours without breaks. Bill supporters, like Republican Rep. Jeff Holcomb, say encouraging teenage employment builds a strong work ethic, and if an employer schedules a teen for a time they cannot work, then they can go get another job. Another data point: a research study from PEW notes overall youth labor participation has been declining for several decades but recently ticked up during the pandemic.

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Tristan Wood
SUMMER INTERN 2021