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Florida lawmakers want to let children work full-time hours – even on school nights

Florida lawmakers will consider a bill that could expand working hours for 16- and 17-year-olds (Getty Images)
Florida lawmakers will consider a bill that could expand working hours for 16- and 17-year-olds (Getty Images)

A bill in Florida that would allow children to work full-time hours even on school nights has just passed another major hurdle.

House Bill 49, championed by Florida Republicans, would allow employers to schedule 16- and 17-year-olds between 6 am and 11 pm, even if the following day is a school day. Under the bill, employers could also schedule them to work more than 30 hours per week year-round. The bill also allows students who are “in a home education program” or enrolled in an approved virtual instructional program to work during school hours.

And on Tuesday, the Florida House Commerce Committee voted to advance the bill into the Florida House of Representatives.

Ever since its introduction by Representative Linda Chaney, a Republican, state Democrats and labour policy experts have stood in stark opposition.

Representative Anna Eskamani, a Democrat who opposes the bill, called it “extremely concerning.”

“Florida is home to a robust immigrant community and this bill could make their children vulnerable to corporate exploitation the same way they were in the 20th century,” Ms Eskamani said in a statement. “We have seen this pattern of exploitation before in the US and we should take steps to ensure it never happens again.”

Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said the bill “disproportionately harms marginalized communities.”

“It is often marginalized communities who enter the labor force at a young age, and these young people deserve to be protected while trying to build a life in Florida,” Ms Gross said in a statement. “The majority in the legislature often touts the need to ‘let kids be kids’ and yet they push bills like this that do the opposite.”

Last summer alone, at least three minors were killed while working in the US: 16-year-old William Hampton in Missouri, 16-year-old Michael Schuls in Wisconsin and 16-year-old Duvan Perez in Mississippi.

Meanwhile, a summer 2023 report by local outlet WFTV suggested central Florida was seeing a spike in child labour cases, a trend which dated back to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nationwide, the US Department of Labor (DOL) has recorded a 69 per cent increase since 2018 in illegal child employment. Migrant children, especially those who do not have a parent in the US, are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

Despite this, Florida isn’t the only state with advocates for loosening child labour laws.

Since 2021, lawmakers in at least ten states have introduced or passed legislation that would weaken child employment rules, according to a December 2023 report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

“Instead of competing in a race to the bottom on child labor standards, states can eliminate significant gaps and exclusions in existing child labor laws, strengthen protections beyond the minimal and limited standards mandated by federal law, and improve job quality for workers of all ages,” the report reads.

The Independent has reached out to Ms Chaney, the representative who first introduced the bill, for comment.