Tallahassee, Fla. – In a move that has sparked controversy and debate, the Florida House has given its approval to a measure that would relax work restrictions for 16- and 17-year-olds. The Republican-controlled House voted 80-35 in favor of the measure (HB 49), which seeks to eliminate long-standing limitations on the number of hours these young workers can work when school is scheduled for the next day. Additionally, the bill aims to remove the restriction on the number of hours they can work in a week when school is in session.
The bill’s sponsor, Linda Chaney, a Republican representative from St. Pete Beach, argues that the legislation would provide teenagers with the opportunity to work up to 40 hours per week. Chaney points out that 24 other states have already adopted similar measures. According to Chaney, the bill’s intention is to offer more choice and opportunities for young individuals who are already working beyond the current limitations, often taking on side jobs without proper benefits or protections.
However, Democrats have raised concerns about the potential negative impact of the bill. They argue that it could hinder students’ education and suggest that it is designed to exploit children to address labor shortages, including those of immigrant workers. Representative Robin Bartleman, a Democrat from Weston, voiced her opposition, claiming that the bill would create a cheap workforce for big businesses. Bartleman also noted that students already face significant demands on their time and that working additional hours could impede their ability to succeed academically.
During the debate, Democrats proposed several amendments in an attempt to address their concerns. These proposals included mandatory rest breaks every five hours for workers under 18 and the requirement for employers to provide parents with a list of their children’s duties and wages. However, these amendments were ultimately unsuccessful.
Representative Angie Nixon, a Democrat from Jacksonville, pointed out the contradiction between previous legislation that aimed to start the school day later, arguing that this was done to ensure students had sufficient sleep for academic success. Nixon suggested that the current bill might undermine the efforts to prioritize education by exploiting children for cheap labor.
Representative Ashley Gantt, a Democrat from Miami, warned that children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds would be most vulnerable to exploitation under the proposed changes. Gantt highlighted that these young individuals often have to bridge financial gaps in their households and that the bill could exacerbate their burdens.
In response to these concerns, Representative Jeff Holcomb, a Republican from Spring Hill, argued that the vast majority of teenagers, approximately 99%, would never work more than 30 hours a week. Holcomb emphasized the importance of allowing young individuals the freedom to work if they so choose, without excessive regulations.
Chaney defended the bill by stating that small business owners would go to great lengths to keep their employees happy. She suggested that if 16- and 17-year-olds were dissatisfied with their working conditions, they would simply leave their jobs without much notice.
The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee recently approved the Senate’s version of the bill (SB 1596), which does not go as far as the House bill. Notably, it retains the prohibition on working more than 30 hours in a week when school is in session. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican from Naples, expressed support for the Senate version, emphasizing the need for parental consent that is genuinely provided by parents and not self-written by teenagers.
Under the Senate bill, 16- and 17-year-olds would be limited to working eight hours when school is scheduled for the following day. However, exceptions would be made for holidays and Sundays.
The approval of the House bill and the ongoing discussions in the Senate highlight the divisive nature of this issue. The future of the legislation remains uncertain, as lawmakers grapple with finding the right balance between providing opportunities for young workers and safeguarding their education and well-being.