Lawmakers loosen teen work rules in Florida

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By industryview via iStock for WMNF News.

By Jim Turner ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — A toned-down but still controversial proposal that would loosen decades-old work restrictions for 16- and 17-year-old youths is headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The House and Senate gave final approval to the bill (HB 49) in the final hour of the 2024 legislative session, readying it to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Critics argued that the bill — while not as broad as initially sought by the House — would hinder students’ education. They said it could lead to increased distractions and school absenteeism as students might work more than 30 hours a week during the school year.

But House sponsor Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach, said the measure would help students who already work around the state’s rules.

Senate sponsor Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, said the proposal “gives greater flexibility to certain 16- and 17-year-olds if they are in the workforce.”

Groups such as the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association supported changing the work restrictions. After the proposal was scaled back, the Florida AFL-CIO also backed the bill.

The bill would maintain a 30-hour workweek limit for 16- and 17-year-olds when school is in session. But parents, guardians or school superintendents could waive the 30-hour limit.

Also, the measure would lift a restriction by allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to work more than eight hours on Sundays and holidays when school is the next day.

The bill would require that 16- and 17-year-olds working eight or more hours in a day get 30-minute meal breaks after four hours of work.

As the bill moved through committees, critics said it was designed to use minors to address labor shortages, including shortages related to a lack of immigrant workers.

But Florida Policy Institute CEO Sadaf Knight in a statement said the toned-down final version “does not pose the same degree of risk to Florida’s youth as the original version.”

The House voted 76-33 on Friday to pass the final version, while the Senate passed it 27-11.

The approval came after a vote on a separate issue that would prevent people under age 21 from working in adult entertainment establishments. Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. said it was ironic that lawmakers passed that bill while also freeing up many 16- and 17-year-olds to work longer in service-related jobs.

“I really think that the most vulnerable age for trafficking actually is going to be less than 18, and unfortunately service jobs have very high rates of sexual harassment,” Eskamani said. “And we’re not providing protection for young people.”

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