Florida’s child labor laws are facing a potential loosening as a bill progresses through the legislative process. The bill has cleared a significant hurdle and is now poised for a floor vote in the Florida House, with increasing chances of reaching the governor’s desk. Despite opposition from Democrats who deem the legislation dangerous and unnecessary, Florida’s Republican supermajority remains steadfast in their support.
The House Commerce Committee advanced HB 49 along party lines, with Republicans backing the bill. Representative Linda Chaney, the legislation’s sponsor and a Republican from St. Petersburg, justifies the need for flexibility in education and the workforce. Chaney argues that the proposed law aligns with federal standards, emphasizing the continued restriction of dangerous work while addressing the employee shortage in Florida, particularly in the essential hospitality industry. During an interview, Chaney stated, “I’ve talked to some of the other states who have this bill in place. It’s all positive feedback. I think this is a good step forward for the State of Florida, for our young people, for our small businesses.”
If the bill becomes law, it will primarily affect 16- and 17-year-olds, granting them the ability to work six days a week, more than eight hours a day, and more than 30 hours a week while school is in session. The Florida Policy Institute (FPI), a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on economic issues, swiftly criticized the legislation’s advancement. FPI’s CEO, Sadaf Knight, highlighted that approximately 80,000 teens aged 16 and 17 are currently employed in Florida, with three out of four attending school. Knight argues that the bill would disproportionately impact low-income families and immigrant youth.
A few Florida educators who attended the committee meeting echoed these concerns, emphasizing that their students would suffer from exhaustion, hindering their ability to prioritize learning. Emily Griest, a teacher from Hillsborough County, emphasized, “Our No. 1 priority should always be the education of our students, creating an educated population that will be a better workforce later.”
However, several minors spoke in favor of the bill during the committee meeting, refuting the concerns raised. They asserted that the proposed changes would provide them with more income and valuable experience. Sixteen-year-old Jackson Lowe stated, “It would just give me a lot of opportunity — and proof to my bosses that I can do stuff. There are a lot of restrictions that I cannot do at my job, you know?”
The bill’s journey through the legislative process continues as the House chamber is expected to take it up in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, a version of the bill in the Senate has been amended, removing a provision that would have allowed minors to work on top of roofs. This move brings the two bills closer to alignment and suggests that some form of the legislation will ultimately reach Governor Ron DeSantis. Whether the governor will sign it remains uncertain, as his office typically refrains from commenting on policies until they have been thoroughly reviewed. It is worth noting that other governors, such as Republican Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who is an ally of Governor DeSantis, have already implemented similar changes.