The Florida House has approved a bill that would roll back child labor protections for 16- and 17-year-olds.
The bill (HB 49) would let 16- and 17-year-olds work more than 30 hours a week during the school year, and work past 11 on school nights. The House voted 80-35 to pass it. All but one of the opponents were Democrats.
Debate and questions on the bill lasted more than an hour. Democratic House Leader Fentrice Driskell says she was surprised that the legislature is loosening child labor laws instead of strengthening them.
“This is 2024, this is not the 1900s this is not the 1800s. Just because our children like to play Minecraft doesn’t me we should send them back into the mines,” she said.
But the bill’s sponsor, St. Pete Republican Rep. Linda Chaney, said her bill just brings Florida more in line with national standards.
“And I have yet to hear one person go to Washington and say we need to change the federal labor laws. Not one person has told me they have gone and done that. We’re also aligned with 24 other states,” she said.
The legislation comes as Florida is undergoing a statewide labor shortage. The bill was drafted and supported by business advocacy groups. Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani argued that employers should be looking to increase pay to attract employees instead of lawmakers loosening child labor protections.
“Not every adult wants to work in what is a low-wage job. I don’t think it’s fair to just replace children with that. We should just pay workers better. If we pay workers better, they will work in these jobs that some might consider to be low skill, but I would consider that any job is a good job,” Eskamani said.
Spring Hill Republican Rep. Jeff Holcomb views it a little differently. He said he has worked since he was 12, and allowing teens to work full time will help them build a stronger work ethic.
“I worked all the time because that is the work ethic that got me here today," he said. "I wouldn’t have walked enough doors to win an election if I hadn’t got that work ethic at 12. Folks, we don’t need to coddle our kids. We don’t have to wrap them in bubble wrap. We need to let them work, if they want to.”
While the bill has passed the House, its Senate companion is still apart on several key provisions. Whatever passes both chambers would still need approval from Gov. Ron DeSantis.
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