TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Should Florida loosen its child labor laws? A Florida lawmaker says absolutely — and is touting a bill to do just that.
State Rep. Linda Chaney, R-St. Petersburg, calls her policy an opportunity for young people and employers. That's despite pushback from early critics who consider the idea backtracking on needed protections.
Easing child labor restrictions is a growing movement across the country. Several states have made changes to their standards to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to work longer hours. Arkansas, Iowa, New Jersey and New Hampshire have green-lit similar ideas. Florida may be next.
"I believe the government needs to get out of people's way and allow them to make their own path to success," Chaney said.
Chaney filed HB 49 this week. It removes current restrictions on 16 and 17-year-olds, letting them work before 6:30 a.m., after 11 p.m., more than 30 hours a week, plus on days before class. In addition, the bill permits 15-year-olds more hours and fewer restrictions during summer months or on holiday breaks.
Chaney believed the legislation would help get more money in pockets during what she considered a tough economic time and said employers could ease their workforce shortage.
"We're not rounding children up and putting them on assembly lines," Chaney said. "This bill aligns us with the federal child labor laws and the same laws that are in other states. All of our protections for hazardous work environments that prevent children from being in those environments are still in place. This bill does nothing to endanger children. It just creates opportunity for young people."
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, was among the first to denounce the policy. In an online post to constituents, she called the idea "gross" and said making the bill law would "undo basic child-labor protections."
"I understand that we have workforce challenges," Eskamani said. "I think part of that is due to the anti-immigration policies of the Republican Party — but the solution to this crisis is not making our kids go to work at an earlier age for longer hours."
The Democrat also took issue with a portion of the bill which forbids local governments from circumventing the policy.
The next lawmaking session is still a long way off and bills seldom end up exactly as they started. Even so, Chaney said she was ready to get to work.
"I have had some constituents reach out to me, and some other members reach out and say, 'Good bill, thank you,'" Chaney said.
The gavel drops for the 60-day session in Tallahassee on Jan. 9.