Florida House passes child labor bill that would let teens work more

The legislation has key differences with the bill still moving through the Florida Senate.
Teenagers could work longer hours under a Florida House bill passed Thursday.
Teenagers could work longer hours under a Florida House bill passed Thursday.
Published Feb. 2|Updated Feb. 2

Florida House members passed a bill on Thursday that would roll back some child labor protections and let teenagers work longer hours during the school year.

Critics say the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete Beach, would negatively impact the health and education of teenagers. Proponents say it would help the economy and offer teenagers more opportunity.

Though the House has passed their bill in a 80-35 vote, there are still key differences with the Senate’s legislation. Senators have emphasized that their bill is more narrow than the House’s proposal, putting some distance between them and the other chamber.

Here’s what you need to know about the bill and what’s to come.

What does the House bill say?

The bill, HB49, would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work more than eight hours in a day even if school is the next day, or more than 30 hours a week when school is in session.

It originally eliminated all restrictions on 16- and 17-year-olds working in the early morning or late at night. But after pushback, Chaney amended the bill to keep rules limiting teens that age from working later than 11 p.m. or earlier than 6 a.m. on a day before school, similar to current law.

Teens who are homeschooled, attend virtual school or have dropped out of school would be allowed to work during school hours under the bill.

It would eliminate the requirement that teenagers be granted breaks every four hours of work. The bill says teens should get breaks in the same manner of other employees — which can mean no breaks. Florida employers, under law, are not required to offer food or rest breaks.

Before the House vote, Democrats presented 10 amendments that sought to water down the legislation or reintroduce some guardrails. All were voted down or disqualified.

Who’s behind it?

Conservative advocacy group Foundation for Government Accountability wrote the draft legislation and passed it along to Chaney’s aide, according to records from the Florida House of Representatives.

The organization has also been behind other rollbacks of child labor laws in other states.

The foundation gets significant funding from billionaire Richard Uihlein, who has donated more than $2 million to Gov. Ron DeSantis over the years.

What do supporters say?

Chaney said the bill helps businesses and offers teenagers opportunity. She stressed that the bill would not change any of the state’s restrictions on teens working hazardous jobs.

Chaney said teenagers want to work, but restrictions discourage employers from hiring them and prevent them from getting the hours they want.

“This bill gets government out of their way to choose the path that’s best for them and their families,” she said.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association backs the bill. Samantha Padgett, the group’s vice president of government relations, said members say current restrictions are outdated and make staffing particularly difficult on Sunday evenings.

Padgett said that mandated break restrictions for teens are “especially challenging in the restaurant space” because they often fall in the middle of a rush period.

She said employers would hire more 16- and 17-year-olds if the restrictions were softened.

What do opponents say?

Several teachers traveled to Tallahassee to say they fear kids working longer will mean less time to focus on their school work, and talked about how their students are already fatigued during class.

Other opponents feared that under the proposed changes, a teenager could be fired if they asked not to be scheduled for longer hours ahead of a final exam or other academic need. Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston, brought up her own experience working at a Winn-Dixie while in junior high school. Bartleman said her boss threatened that she would lose her job if she didn’t stay on late.

“That was incredibly scary for me, because I needed that money,” she said.

Democrats who spoke in opposition to the bill on Thursday pointed to a rise in child labor violations that already exist in the state. Florida’s child labor violations increased by nearly 60% from 2021 to 2022, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data conducted by the Florida Policy Institute, which opposes the legislation.

Rep. Ashley Gantt, D-Miami, said the children who would be most exploited are poor children.

How is the Senate bill different?

The Senate legislation, sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, would also affect when teenagers can work, but has several key differences compared to its House counterpart.

“The bill before you is very different than another bill that we’ve maybe seen through the process,” Burgess said during a Senate committee on Tuesday.

The Senate bill, SB1596, keeps some of the state’s child labor laws intact, including the ban on 16- and 17-year-olds working more than eight hours on a day that directly precedes a school day, and a prohibition on working more than 30 hours a week during the school year. But it creates exceptions allowing teens to work more than eight hours on holidays and Sundays.

The bill would let teens work as early as 5:30 a.m. and as late as midnight on days before school.

And it specifies that any employer who schedules a minor in violation of the law is subject to a second-degree misdemeanor or fines.

In the House bill, homeschooled teenagers could work during school hours, but not early in the morning or late at night. The Senate bill, though, would let a homeschooled teen work early in the morning as well as during school hours.

What other bills affect child labor in Florida?

Another proposed bill this session, filed by Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, and Rep. John Snyder, R-Stuart, has stirred controversy.

The legislation, SB460 and HB917, would have allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to work on roofing and scaffolding. But after heavy pushback and input from stakeholders, the bills were amended to say teenagers cannot work on roofs or ladders above six feet. It still allows them to work on construction sites if they have an Occupational Safety and Health Administration certification and are under supervision.

The Associated Builders and Contractors and the Florida Home Builders Association, two high-powered industry groups, helped develop some of the bill’s ideas. Teenagers can already work on construction sites if they are part of a school program.

“The issue and the purpose of the bill is there are vacuums of that opportunity throughout the state,” said Carol Bowen, the chief lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida.

Critics still are concerned that having teenagers on construction sites or working around roofing, even at ground level, could cause them harm, open the door to weak supervision and violate federal standards.

The House and Senate bills still have two committees to move through before the bills can go to their respective floors for a full vote.