Bill that loosens rules on hours that Florida teens can work advances in the House

teenage laborer
By industryview via iStock for WMNF News.

By Jim Turner ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — A controversial proposal that would loosen regulations on the number of hours that 16-year-old and 17-year-old Floridians can work continued moving through the state House on Wednesday.

The Republican-controlled House Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee voted 12-5 along party lines to back the proposal (HB 49).

In part, the bill would remove a prohibition in current law on 16- and 17-year-olds working more than eight hours when school is scheduled the following day. It also would remove a prohibition on 16- and 17-year-olds working more than 30 hours a week when school is in session.

“These are teenagers. These young adults, they’re 16 and 17. They’re driving cars,” bill sponsor Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach, said. “So, they’re not children.”

Before the vote, the panel approved an amendment to somewhat scale back an earlier version of the bill. The earlier version, for example, would have eliminated a prohibition on 16- and 17-year-olds working after 11 p.m. on school days. The amendment would keep in place the 11 p.m. restriction.

Chaney said that would prevent teens who are in school from being scheduled to work overnight. The amendment wouldn’t affect teens who are no longer in school, homeschooled or enrolled in a virtual school.

The amendment also would require that 16- and 17-year-old workers receive the same breaks as older employees. Chaney said the change was to address concerns that have been raised on the proposal.

But Democrats expressed concerns that teens will be exploited and said parents are worried the bill would result in children having to choose between work and education.

“We want our children to have a better opportunity, and that better opportunity is not working but through education,” Rep. Mike Gottlieb, D-Davie, said.

The bill, which has cleared two House panels and is ready to go to the House Commerce Committee, would roll back a decades-old child labor law.

Chaney said the proposal is aligned with federal law but is more restrictive in some areas. It has support from the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.

But opponents Wednesday said the bill is a way to provide businesses with “low wage” labor as the state cracks down on undocumented immigrant workers.

“Florida is grappling with a labor shortage, and it seems the state is now attempting to fill the void with child labor,” said Jackson Oberlink of the advocacy group Florida Rising. “This is unacceptable, and we must not stand idly by while the safety of our children is sacrificed for economic expediency.”

Florida is the 16th state where legislation has been proposed during the past two years to ease child labor restrictions.

Rep. Jeff Holcomb, R-Spring Hill, said workers want experience that teens can learn at 16 and 17.

“I think we’re wrapping our kids in bubble wrap here,” Holcomb said. “At age 12, I worked at a snow cone shack. Great benefits, by the way. At 14, washed dishes. Sixteen, busboy. I learned a work ethic, responsibility and a value of a dollar.”

Samantha Padgett, vice president of government relations for the restaurant and lodging association, said lifting current restrictions would help expand financial and career-development opportunities for young Floridians.

Padgett added that many restaurants don’t hire 16- and 17-year-olds because regulations impose breaks for youth workers that often fall in the middle of rush periods.

Under the current law, Padgett said, “A 16-, 17-year-old who would be able to come in at 4 p.m., after school, would start working during the early bird rush. But then they would be required to take a break at 8 p.m., when the dinner rush is in full swing.”

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