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Florida Allows Children to Work Over 30 Hours a Week During the School Year
A heated measure in the Legislature that would lift restrictions on work hours for 16- and 17-year-olds has raised concerns among members of the public on Wednesday, who argue that teenagers could potentially be at risk due to the proposed changes.
The proposition put forth by Tampa Bay-area Republican Rep. Linda Chaney (HB 49) aims to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work more than 30 hours a week during the school year and have fewer mandatory work breaks.
“Employers view entry-level jobs like those in the hospitality, grocery, and retail sectors as an ‘invisible curriculum’ that imparts soft skills to teenagers, boosting their chances in the job market,” Chaney explained to lawmakers when presenting the legislation. “Human resource managers claim that Generation X lacks career readiness skills, which limits their employment prospects. These skills are acquired by teenagers in their entry-level positions, should they choose to pursue them.”
The proposal was approved on a strict party-line vote on Wednesday in the House Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee. It is now just one committee away from being presented on the House floor for final approval. (The state Senate and Governor Ron DeSantis must also approve the measure.)
The bill is being championed by business interests in Florida, who openly admit that they want the measure to pass in order to address the state’s severe labor shortage.
“Florida’s tourism industry desperately needs additional labor,” stated Samantha Padgett, vice president for government relations and general counsel for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Florida has joined at least 15 other states in the past two years in proposing the roll back of child labor protections, and it is the 13th state to introduce such legislation in 2023, as reported by the Economic Policy Institute.
Educators, labor advocates, and representatives from farm working communities have voiced their opposition to the bill, arguing that it would negatively impact the development of teenagers. Several individuals who spoke before the committee simply stated, “Let kids be kids.”
Based on current trends in teen employment, the Florida Policy Institute estimates that the bill could directly impact up to 94,000 teenagers in Florida who are part of the labor force, including 80,000 who are currently employed.
Jessica Ramirez, who works with the Farmworkers Association of Florida, made the trip from Apopka to testify at the committee hearing. She expressed concern on behalf of her community, as families like hers already rely on the income earned by their children to help cover family expenses.
“I have a 17-year-old girl in high school,” she shared. “She plays soccer…and also works part-time. Once soccer season ends, she asks for additional hours at work. But now I have concerns that if this bill passes, her boss might say, ‘If you don’t work these hours, you’ll be fired.’ So, what will she do? Drop out of school or lose her job? It’s not fair because she loves her work.”
Ellen Baker, a schoolteacher in Palm Beach County, attests to witnessing children falling asleep in class under the current labor law.
“They tell us that they’re tired because they’re working,” she stated. “Struggling workers will have less time to complete their homework, and they will struggle to stay awake during class.”
However, some Republicans are growing tired of the concerns raised regarding teenagers.
“I think we’re overly protecting our kids here,” commented GOP Rep. Jeff Holcomb, who serves Pasco and Hernando counties in the House.
Chaney also argued that some of the public and Democratic comments were misplaced.
“This bill is not about children, this bill is about teenagers,” she clarified. “They’re 16 and 17 years old. They have driver’s licenses. They are not children. This is not child labor.”
A similar measure, introduced by Pasco County Republican Danny Burgess, has been filed in the Senate just a week ago. However, SB 1596 has not yet been scheduled for review by any committees in that chamber.