Bill weakening Florida's child labor laws advances in state legislature

'They want to work,' Rep. Linda Chaney, who filed legislation ahead of the session, says
Posted at 5:42 PM, Dec 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-13 17:43:01-05

A bill weakening Florida’s child labor laws is advancing in the state legislature, clearing its first committee Wednesday. The policy eliminates curfew restrictions for some teens and allows them to work longer hours. 

The House Regulatory Reform & Economic Development Subcommittee's GOP majority approved the bill along party lines. That sends it a step closer to the House floor ahead of next year's session in January. Frustrating for opponents but a win for its backers, like 16-year-old Logan Schulenberger, who works as a martial arts instructor.

"I’m trying to get in the workforce," the Tallahassee teen. said. "The more experience you have, the more likely you are to get hired in the future— right?"

He was among several supporters who spoke in favor of HB 49. Logan told Scripps News he wanted the freedom to work longer with less restriction.

"It’s up to the kid to know their limitations," he said.

Specifically, the bill removes current curfew constraints on 16- and 17-year-olds, letting them work before 6:30 a.m. and after 11 p.m. The teens would also allowed to work more than 30 hours a week, plus on days before class. Florida's mandated 30-minute breaks following four hours of continuous work would remain, but only for those 15 and younger. City and county governments preempted in many cases from circumventing the standards.

"This does align us with federal law and 24 other states — mostly blue, liberal states," Rep. Linda Chaney, R-St. Petersburg, who filed the bill ahead of the session, said.

Chaney listed for the committe the reasons she was pushing the policy. She said it would help bolster Florida’s workforce, keep hazardous work restrictions in place and grant kids who want to work a chance to do so.

"They want to work," the Republican said. "This bill gets the government out of their way to choose the path that is best for them."

There were plenty opposed to the idea, teens included. Christopher Tingle, an 18-year-old living in Tallahassee, said the change would impact education.

“We do not want minors who are going to high school, working 12 a.m. to 6 a.m.," Tingle said. "How are they going to function at school?"

The Florida Policy Institute, which describes itself as nonpartisan, condemned the approval. In a statement, FPI CEO Sadaf Knight said HB 49 would allow employers to "further exploit teen workers in Florida."

“During a time when Florida lawmakers should be focused on implementing greater protections for all workers, not fewer, we are especially concerned that legislators are considering a bill that would undo crucial provisions of Florida’s child labor laws,” Knight said. "Our Legislature should be doing everything possible to protect children from workplace exploitation, and create an environment that promotes education."

Democrats tried in vain to water down the proposed changes but lacked the votes to make any of their amendments happen. In debate, the members warned approval would hurt kids more than help.

"We just recently passed a law having the school day start later because teenagers need more sleep," Rep. Joe Casello, D-Boynton Beach, said. "I don’t see how this bill helps that."

“I really do encourage us to let kids be kids — a phrase my colleagues have loved to use these past several years," Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said. "I don't understand why they're now a youth worker— they're not a kid anymore."

HB 49 still has a long way to go before it gets close to the governor’s desk. Momentum before session does suggest it’ll continue to move when lawmakers gavel in next month.

However, some things are working against the legislation. It doesn’t yet have a Senate companion bill. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, told Scripps News recently she was not sure what to think of the idea. The Republican leader said she'd be more supportive if the bill didn’t go quite as far as it does.