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Iowa bill relaxing child labor laws headed to governor’s desk

The bill will allow teenagers to work longer hours, serve alcohol and work around dangerous machinery.

(CN) — A bill that would loosen restrictions on child labor is on its way to Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, adding Iowa to the list of state legislatures that have passed laws critics say will put teenage workers in potentially risky jobs.

Iowa’s bill would allow teenagers to work around machinery in approved programs, serve alcohol in restaurants, and work longer hours on school days, among other things.

Both houses of the Iowa General Assembly are dominated by Republicans, who pushed the legislation. The Iowa governor — also a Republican — has spoken favorably about the proposal and is expected to sign it into law.

Iowa’s Senate first passed the bill April 18 with some of its most controversial features removed. The Iowa House on Tuesday further amended the bill in response to critics who say the Senate's version of the bill, while improved, still would put kids as young as 14 in dangerous occupations.

The Senate accepted the House's amendment and passed the bill 29–18 Wednesday afternoon.

Critics of Iowa’s bill have targeted a provision of it that would allow for exceptions so teenagers as young as 14 to work in jobs currently banned for minors, provided they are part of an approved work-study job-training program with adult supervision. As amended, the bill would raise that minimum age to 16.

The House also amended a provision of the bill that would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol in restaurants with a parent's permission. The amendment provides safeguards against sexual harassment and requires there be two adult employees present.

State Representative Dave Deyoe of Story County, the bill’s floor manager in the House, said during debate Tuesday that when young people work there is to "less poverty, money for future education, less delinquent behavior, experience in the workplace and access to mentors and role models, and finally, access to careers that may mean a more successful future," according to the Des Moines Register.

House Democrats, all of whom voted in favor of an amendment increasing protections for young workers, voted against the bill, which passed 60–34.

The U.S. Department of Labor has sounded alarms about child labor abuses.

“Since 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor has seen a 69% increase in children being employed illegally by companies,” the department said in a Feb. 27 statement. “In the last fiscal year, the department found 835 companies it investigated had employed more than 3,800 children in violation of labor laws.”

In February, the department announced that Packers Sanitation Services Inc., which provides cleaning services to some of the nation’s largest meat and poultry producers, paid $1.5 million in civil penalties for employing at least 102 children — from 13 to 17 years of age — in hazardous occupations and overnight shifts at 13 meat processing facilities in eight states.

Federal and state laws protecting child labor have been around since at least 1938 when Congress enacted federal child labor provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

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Categories / Employment, Government, Law

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