Two bills are in discussion by Florida’s government to loosen child labor laws.
Senate Bill 460 titled “Career and Technical Education,” developed by Tallahassee Republican Sen. Corey Simon, was passed by the Senate Education PreK-12 Committee on Jan. 24. The bill would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work on hazardous construction areas as long as the buildings are below 6 feet tall.
Additionally, House Bill 49 titled “Employment and Curfew of Minors,” introduced by Rep. Linda Chaney, is being examined by the legislative committee and plans to remove current minor employment regulations, including guaranteed meal breaks and working hour limits. Under this legislation, 16- and 17-year-olds would be able to work for more than eight hours a day, anytime between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. for more than six consecutive days a week. The revision also replaces “shall’’ with “may” in multiple sentences, opening up more space for legal interpretation. This bill resembles movements in other states, such as Arkansas, Iowa, New Jersey and New Hampshire.
“It varies from industry,” upper school history teacher Chris Day said. “It could have a negative impact depending on who has to work. Some people are working just because they want experience and some are doing it because they have to help the family build. So where that [the bills] ends just depends.”
Florida child labor bills are in a central debate as they have advanced in the midst of rising child labor violations; the number of violations in fiscal year (FY) 2022 was 37% higher than FY2021 and 283% higher than FY2015.
“I understand it from a stance because some people need that to support their family, like if they only have one parent,” junior Lily Stejskal said. “But on the other side I also see that it can be dangerous for kids if it’s not enforced as a rule that we kids can’t work for more than a certain amount of hours our bosses are going to incentivize and encourage working as many hours as possible.”
Some experts and Democrats attribute these bills to the anti-immigration bill that was recently passed. They argue relaxing child labor laws should not be the way to combat labor shortages. Numerous advocacy groups have also released a letter demanding legislators to reject the proposed bill.
“Here we are, opening up the possibility that children will be exploited as cheap labor,” Orlando Democrat Rita Harris said. “I had an amendment that will protect them from deadly heat exposure, and yet it was voted down.”