Senate committee advances bill modifying teen labor laws

by | Jan 30, 2024

The Florida Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism advanced a bill on Tuesday that would expand permissible working hours for 16-and-17-year-olds. The measure additionally posits specific work hour limits for those 15 and under, and additional provisions for meal breaks and exemptions for home-schooled or virtually instructed minors.

The Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism advanced legislation on Tuesday that would revise labor laws for teenagers in Florida.

The measure, carried by Sen. Danny Burgess, stipulates that 16-and-17-year-old workers would be allowed to begin their workday at 5:30 a.m., an hour earlier than the current 6:30 a.m. start, and could work up until midnight, extending the present 11:00 p.m. limit. Additionally, the bill limits their working hours to eight on any school day, except on holidays or Sundays.

For those aged 15 and younger, the bill introduces a cap of 15 weekly working hours during school periods. The legislation also mandates a mandatory half-hour meal break after four consecutive hours of work and prohibits them from working more than six days in a row.

“We want to make sure that we recognize that we live in a world, especially post-COVID, where [school] schedules are a little more fluid,” Burgess told the committee. “What drew me to this issue is [that] we homeschool my kids, and they’re too young to work right now, but when they become of age, they may be done with school by 1 p.m. because my wife and I have done what we had to do to get through the day.”

A clause in the bill offers exceptions for minors engaged in home education or state-approved virtual instruction programs. In these cases, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation is authorized to grant specific waivers to the standard restrictions.

Burgess contested to fellow lawmakers that the intent of SB 1596 is not to “dismantle child labor laws” but rather to adapt them to modern schedules and educational models.

“I want to be very clear this is not a repeal of Florida’s child labor law,” he said. “That is a different bill. We took a lot of time and had a lot of cooks in this kitchen to make sure that what we’re doing is responsible.”

However, the proposal was met with significant resistance. Advocacy groups like Florida Student Power and Florida Rising raised concerns during public testimony appearances regarding the bill’s potential repercussions on child welfare and educational outcomes.

Bill opponents contended that extended work hours could be detrimental to minors’ academic achievements and their long-term prospects, potentially leading to exploitation. Critics also speculated that the bill might be an indirect response to labor shortages, potentially exploiting the young workforce at the expense of their well-being.

“This bill truly puts our children at risk of exploitation and can greatly deter their long-term educational and career growth,” a representative for Florida Student Power said. “Research has shown that students who work longer hours while in school perform worse academically and are less likely to graduate from college. By rolling back child labor protections, we not only further jeopardize our education and future prospects for our children, but also perpetuate cycles of inequality.”

Conversely, lawmakers in support of the legislation lauded it as a necessary adaptation to the “evolving landscape of work and education,” particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This bill really only moves the 11 p.m. [regulation] to 12 p.m., and I don’t see anywhere in this bill that requires these children to work those hours,” said Sen. Tom Wright, who voted yes on the measure. “I think that’s still left up to the parents to decide whether they want them to work until midnight or not. I believe in my heart that you’re just trying to make this available if they so desire, but it’s certainly not a requirement or allowing people to abuse or use our children.”


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