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Iowa governor signs bill to loosen child labor laws

May 27, 2023, 2:04 PM

Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, seen here on January 23, signed a bill into law on May 26 that r...

Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, seen here on January 23, signed a bill into law on May 26 that rolls back child labor protections. Mandatory Credit: Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register/AP/File

(CNN) — Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill Friday that loosens child labor laws by extending the hours that teens can work and the establishments where they can be employed.

The state legislature passed the GOP-led bill earlier this month largely along party lines after weeks of fierce debate. Democrats argued that easing the rules would endanger children and distract them from school and extracurricular activities, while the bill’s backers maintained that it would provide greater job opportunities. Iowa joins several states that have introduced or enacted legislation aiming to loosen child labor laws.

“With this legislation Iowa joins 20 other states in providing tailored, common sense labor provisions that allow young adults to develop their skills in the workforce,” Reynolds said in a statement.

“In Iowa, we understand there is dignity in work and we pride ourselves on our strong work ethic. Instilling those values in the next generation and providing opportunities for young adults to earn and save to build a better life should be available,” she added.

Reynolds, whose signature was expected, has been a proponent of expanding youth employment opportunities. Last year, she signed a bill that lowered the minimum age requirement to provide unsupervised care to school-age children in child care facilities to 16.

Under the newly signed law, 14- and 15-year-olds are allowed to work two additional hours per day when school is in session, from four to six hours. They are also able to work until 9 p.m. during most of the year and until 11 p.m. from June 1 to Labor Day, two hours later than previously allowed. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds are now permitted to work the same hours as an adult.

The law also allows teens as young as 16 to serve alcohol in restaurants during the hours food is being served if their employer has written permission from their parent or guardian. It also requires that two adults be present while the teen serves alcohol and for the teen to complete “training on prevention and response to sexual harassment.”

Among the expanded employment opportunities outlined under the new law, 14- and 15-year-olds would be able to do certain types of work in industrial laundry services and in freezers and meat coolers – areas that were previously prohibited.

The law also gives authority to the directors of the education and workforce development departments to provide an exception to the work hours and some of the prohibited work activities to teens 16 and older who are enrolled in a qualified work-based learning program.

As the bill made its way through the state legislature, opponents of the measure argued that it could not only endanger the safety of children but would also target teens from lower-income and minority backgrounds.

However, proponents said the bill did not require any child to work and pointed to a provision that eliminates exemptions previously allowing children under the age of 14 to work, including selling newspapers and other items door-to-door.

The law is part of a broader effort by states to loosen child labor laws. Arkansas’s governor signed a bill in March that allows youth under the age of 16 to be employed without a work certificate, and New Jersey and New Hampshire have enacted laws to extend work hours. Several states, including Minnesota and Missouri, have also recently introduced similar bills, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

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Iowa governor signs bill to loosen child labor laws