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Florida Senate revamps teen worker bill

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TALLAHASSEE --- A controversial proposal to loosen work restrictions for 16- and 17-year-olds is ready to go to the full Senate after changes Monday night drew at least some labor-union support.

The Senate Rules Committee voted 15-3 to approve the revised bill (HB 49), which addresses issues such as how many hours that 16- and 17-year-old youths can work. The House voted 80-35 on Feb. 1 to pass a more far-reaching version.

Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, said unions have long been concerned about child labor abuses. But he said the AFL-CIO could support the bill as revised by the Senate.

"When we look at the product as it came over from the House, with truly draconian elimination of labor laws that have been on the books since 1986, this (Senate version of the bill) is an area where we have to break with tradition," Templin told the committee. "And we support this bill."

As an example, the bill, as passed by the House, would have eliminated a restriction on 16- and 17-year-olds working more than 30 hours during weeks when school is in session. The Senate version would maintain the 30-hour limit, but it would allow parents or guardians or school superintendents to waive the limit.

"I think if we're looking to empower parents and also get the school more involved, I think it's a measured approach," Senate sponsor Danny Burgess said.

But Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones questioned if the change would allow 16- and 17-year-old students to get approval from school officials to work more hours when their parents object. Burgess said that issue could be addressed during a rule-making process but is "certainly something to continue to look at."

The House version of the bill would have removed a restriction on 16- and 17-year-olds working more than eight hours a day when school is scheduled the next day. The Senate would only lift the restriction on holidays and Sundays.

The Senate changes also would keep work hours for 16- and 17-year-olds from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. when school is scheduled the next day. The House bill moved the allowable start of the workday to 6 a.m.

Also, while the House version would have led to teen workers getting breaks and meal periods on par with people 18 and older, the Senate changes would require 16- and 17-year-olds working eight hours or more in a day to get 30-minute meal breaks after four continuous hours of work.

"This is in no way, shape or form a repeal of current Florida law. It's merely updating it, I believe, to reflect sort of the world we live in today," Burgess said. "I don't believe there's going to be any increase in child-labor violations due to the measured adjustments to the left and right in this law."

If the full Senate passes the revised bill, the issue would then have to return to the House. If the House doesn't accept the Senate changes, the two chambers would have to try to negotiate a final bill.

As the proposal moved through legislative committees, Democrats and some groups argued that easing current restrictions would hinder students' education. They also argued the intent of the bill was to use minors to address labor shortages, including shortages related to a lack of immigrant workers.

Alexis Tsoukalas, a policy analyst with the Florida Policy Institute, said Monday that existing "guardrails," which include allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to work more than 30 hours a week during the summer, need to remain in place.

"We know from reputable studies that extending teens' work hours can make even the safest job hazardous to their education and well-being," Tsoukalas said.

The Senate version would match the House in exempting 16- and 17-year-old students who are homeschooled or in virtual instruction programs from restrictions.

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