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New Labor Law in This State Lets Kids Work Longer Hours

Iowa GOP pushes through child labor legislation that even lets minors serve booze in some cases
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 19, 2023 9:40 AM CDT
New Iowa Labor Law Lets Kids Work Longer Hours
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/industryview)

Every Democrat in Iowa's Senate, as well as two Republicans, voted nay on a controversial bill early Tuesday that would allow teens to work longer hours in currently banned jobs, including in roles that serve booze. But the rest of the body's GOP pushed the legislation through by a vote of 32-17, raising concerns about the safety of young employees in the state, per the Des Moines Register. The bill gives the Iowa Department of Education or Iowa Workforce Development agency the ability to issue exceptions to certain jobs that 14- to 17-year-olds in the state aren't permitted at the moment to work. For instance, the bill would permit teens to serve alcohol in restaurants only (no bars or strip clubs), as long as the teen is at least 16 and has a written OK from a parent or guardian.

The new law would allow teens to perform in other currently restricted roles—including dangerous jobs like excavation, roofing, and demolition, per the Iowa Capital Dispatch—as long as they underwent special training. Young employees' workdays also get longer under the legislation: Those under 16 can now work up to six hours daily, up from four, and until 9pm during the school year and 11pm over summer break. Kids who are at least 16 could work the same number of hours as adults. In addition to giving kids the chance to earn spending money or save for big-ticket items like a car, GOP lawmakers say Senate File 542 would teach minors valuable workplace skills.

They also argue that the decision on whether an underage teen should work longer hours should be left up to the teen and their parents, and that some of the most dangerous jobs, like mining and meatpacking, aren't allowable under the bill. Democrats and labor unions, however, are pushing back on the legislation, saying that workplace accidents could rise as a result of an influx of younger, inexperienced workers, and that the Iowa law conflicts with some federal guidelines. One concession Dems did get, via an amendment: Teens injured on the job can seek workers' comp benefits.

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Per the AP, the US Department of Labor currently has more than 600 child labor inquiries in the works around the nation. Some companies have already been hit with fines for violations in which children were found to have been injured. The Iowa bill, passed after a marathon Senate session that lasted until the vote around 5am Tuesday, still must make its way through the Iowa House before heading to the desk of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. Reynolds has previously hinted that she supports expanding opportunities for youth employment. About half of Iowans similarly support loosening the state's child labor laws, while 42% are against it, per a Register/Mediacom poll last month. (More Iowa stories.)

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