A controversial measure in the Legislature that would remove restrictions on work hours for 16 and 17-year-olds sparked concerns from members of the public Wednesday, saying teens could potentially be harmed by the changes.
The proposal by Tampa Bay area Republican Rep. Linda Chaney (HB 49) would allow 16 and 17-year olds to work more than 30 hours a week during the school year and allow for fewer mandatory work breaks.
“Employers consider the entry level work of teens like jobs in hospitality, grocery and retail to be ‘invisible curriculum’ that teaches them the soft skills that bolsters candidates for future opportunities,” Chaney told lawmakers in introducing the legislation. “HR mangers say Gen X’ers lack career readiness skills, reducing their employment opportunities. These skills are learned as teens in their entry level positions, if they so choose.”
The proposal was approved on a party-line vote on Wednesday in the House Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee, and is just one committee stop away from making it to the House floor for final approval. (The state Senate also would have to approve the measure, as would Gov. Ron DeSantis.)
The bill is being pushed by business interests in Florida, who unabashedly admit that they want the measure to pass to help them with a statewide labor shortage.
“Additional labor is desperately needed in Florida’s tourism industry,” said Samantha Padgett, the vice president for government relations and general counsel for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Florida is at least the 16th state to introduce roll back child labor protections in the past two years, and the 13th state to introduce such legislation in 2023, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Educators, labor advocates and those from farm working communities spoke out against the bill, saying it will harm the development of teenagers. “Let kids be kids,” was the response from several of those who spoke before the committee.
Based on teen work trends, the Florida Policy Institute estimates that up to 94,000 teens who are in the labor force in Florida could be directly impacted by the bill, including 80,000 who are currently employed.
Jessica Ramirez works with the Farmworkers Association of Florida and traveled from Apopka to speak at the committee hearing. She said her community was concerned with the measure because families like hers already have their children helping pay family bills.
“I have a 17-year old girl in high school,” she said. “She plays soccer…and also has a part-time job. When soccer is finished she asks for more hours in her job. But I’m thinking now if this bill passes, if the boss says, ‘Oh you have to work those hours, if you don’t work those hours you’re going to be fired,’ so, what’s she going to do? Leave the school or get fired from work? That’s not fair because she loves work.”
Ellen Baker, a schoolteacher in Palm Beach County, says she sees kids falling asleep right now with the current law in place.
“They tell us they’re tired because they’re working,” she said. “Struggling workers will have less time to do their homework, and they will have a decreased ability to stay awake in class.”
But some Republicans grew weary of the concerns about teenagers.
“I think we’re wrapping our kids in bubble wrap here,” said GOP Rep. Jeff Holcomb, who represents Pasco and Hernando counties in the House.
Chaney also said some of the comments from the public and Democrats were misplaced.
“This bill is not about children, this bill is about teenagers,” she said. “They’re 16 and 17-years old. They’re driving cars. They are not children. This is not child labor.”
A measure that shares many but not all of the same policies as Chaney’s bill was just filed within the last week by Pasco County Republican Danny Burgess in the Senate. SB 1596 has yet to scheduled in any committees in that chamber.
–Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix