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Indiana bill to expand children's working hours – with parental consent – heads to governor

A person wearing a face mask works at a computer with two screens.
Justin Hicks
Employers voiced support for the bill, but child advocates didn't, one state senator said.

Some teenagers will be able to work later into the evening during the summer under legislation headed to the governor’s desk.

One of House Bill 1093's provisions allows 14- and 15-year-olds to work until 9 p.m. on weeknights between June 1 and Labor Day, two hours later than current law.

Some schools start their year weeks before Labor Day. Democrats said extended working hours during the beginning of the school year could be detrimental to students.

Sen. Andrea Hunley (D-Indianapolis) introduced an amendment to change “Labor Day” in the bill to “the first day of school.” She said students need to be focused on their classes at the beginning of the school year.

“It’s critical. It sets students up for success for the whole year,” she said. “We know that if you start missing assignments, you start digging yourself into a hole that is really hard to get out of. Those first six weeks of school are what we consider to be the most critical to set students up for success for the rest of the year.”

Hunley’s amendment was ultimately rejected despite support from other Democrats.

“Working for minimum wage more so than being in school isn’t the path,” said Sen. Rodney Pol (D-Chesterton).

Another provision in the bill removes regulations that prevent minors from working more than nine hours a day and more than 40 hours during a school week. A section of the current law that states a minor’s job cannot interfere with their schooling or be detrimental to their life, health, safety or welfare was also removed in the bill.

Pol said the bill prioritizes employer needs over the needs of students. He said employers testified in favor of expanded work hours to help with staffing shortages, but no child advocates endorsed the bill.

“It wasn’t kids coming in and saying we want to work more,” he said. “It was employers coming in and saying we want kids to work more.”

Sen. Brian Buchanan (R-Lebanon), one of the bill’s sponsors, said that expanding work hours for minors helps businesses.

“There are numerous businesses and restaurants, hospitality, tourism, entertainment areas that need workers all the way through the summer,” he said. “The summer is their busy time.”

He said the purpose of the bill, however, is to align Indiana child labor laws with federal requirements. He said helping children gain skills and prepare for the workforce after school is an added bonus.

“Employment is critical,” Buchanan said. “You ask any employer in Indiana or in the United States, they will say that finding talent and finding workers is their biggest challenge.”

READ MORE: Bill to scale back child labor law exemptions passes out of committee
Some lawmakers expressed concern that minors could more easily be taken advantage of by employers. They said Indiana’s fines for violating child labor laws don’t do enough to discourage infractions and noted employers are not charged for their first violation.

An employer’s second child labor law violation results in a $100 fine. The third violation results in a $200 fine, and the fourth violation results in a $400 fine.

Lawmakers in favor of the bill said most violations are from minors clocking out a few minutes after their shift ends. Indiana law specifies that time violation occur when minors clock out more than 30 minutes past what the law deems acceptable.

However, Sen. Mike Gaskill (R-Pendleton) said expanding working hours will overall be beneficial for children.

“We’re giving our children opportunities, and the way the labor laws are currently, we’re making it hard for them to get those opportunities,” he said.

Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said encouraging students to focus more on work could reduce their opportunities in the long run if it results in them missing school for work.

“We have a chronic absenteeism problem in our school systems,” he said. “Now you’re going to create an exception during the school day for a seventh, eighth or ninth grader to say, 'I’m going to go work instead of going to school.' … 14- and 15-year-olds should be in school during the school day and there should be no exception unless they’re sick or have some parental excuse, but it shouldn’t be to be working.”

Buchanan said no children will be forced to work longer hours if they and their parents do not want to.

“This doesn’t require anyone to do anything,” he said. “It simply gives an option where, if an employer has available hours for a young individual to work, they can work that additional time if a parent gives consent. It’s not a mandate."

The Senate sent the bill to the governor’s desk where he can sign it into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.
Copyright 2024 IPB News.

Kirsten Adair

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