TALLAHASEE, Fla. — A bill loosening Florida's child labor laws cleared a major hurdle Tuesday afternoon. It's now set for a floor vote in the Florida House and looking more likely than ever to hit the governor's desk.
Florida's Repbublican supermajority was not breaking on the bill, which essentially treats 16- and 17-year-olds more like adults when it comes to their work hours. That's despite wide opposition from Democrats who continued to denounce the legislation as dangerous and unnecessary.
Could Florida become next state to loosen child labor laws?
"Our education is flexible now— we need to have our workforce flexible," Rep. Linda Chaney, a Republican from St. Petersburg, the legislation's sponsor, said.
Chaney continued to tout the law loosening as mimicking federal standards, still restricting dangerous work and helping solve an employee shortage in Florida — potentially benefiting its vital hospitality industry.
"We're not rounding children up and putting them on assembly lines," Chaney told us during a recent interview on the legislation. "I've talked to some of the other states who have this bill in place. It's all positive feedback. I think this is a good step forward for the State of Florida, for our young people, for our small businesses."
If signed into law — the current version of the bill focuses on 16- and 17-year-olds — they could work six days a week, for more than eight hours a day and more than 30 hours a week — all while school is in session.
The legislation's advancement drew immediate criticism from the Florida Policy Institute, a self-described nonpartisan nonprofit that focuses on economic issues.
A recent FPI analysis found that roughly 80,000 teens aged 16- and 17- are currently employed in Florida, with three out of four also in school,” FPI CEO Sadaf Knight said. "The bill would disproportionately impact Florida teens from families with low income and immigrant youth."
The concerns were echoed by a few Florida educators who attended the committee meeting. They warned their students would suffer— too exhausted to prioritize learning.
"Our No. 1 priority should always be the education of our students,” Emily Griest, a Hillsborough County teacher., said. "Creating an educated population that will be a better workforce later."
Yet, several minors also spoke to committee members, rebuffing the concerns. They told lawmakers the change was a pathway to more income and experience.
“It would just give me a lot of opportunity — and proof to my bosses that I can do stuff," 16-year-old Jackson Lowe said. "There are a lot of restrictions that I cannot do at my job, you know?"
The House chamber is now expected to take up the bill in the coming weeks. That's as a version in the Senate gets watered down.
Lawmakers there stripped out a provision allowing minors to work on top of roofs last week. That brings the two bills closer to alignment a further indication some form of the legislation will reach Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Whether DeSantis will sign is another question. His office often declines to comment until it's had a chance to review a policy. But plenty of other governors have already enacted these kinds of changes, including Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a DeSantis ally.