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‘It’s unAmerican’: New Florida bill would remove work hour restrictions for 16-and 17-year-olds

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A newly filed bill in Florida would remove restrictions on the hours 16-and 17-year-olds are allowed to work and it’s sparking intense pushback from Florida Democrats.

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Currently in Florida, 16-and 17-year-olds lacking a GED or high school diploma can’t work more than eight hours in a single day, earlier than 6:30 a.m. or later than 11 p.m. if school is scheduled the following day.

They also cannot work more than 30 hours a week during school.

However, 17-year-olds do have the option of obtaining a waiver to work additional or different hours from district school superintendents.

But the new bill (HB 49) would wipe those restrictions away and allow 16-and 17-year-olds to work the same hours as adults.

Work restrictions for minors would be lowered to 15 years old, replacing previous regulations that only applied to 16-and 17-year-olds.

Additionally, the proposed legislation would prevent counties and municipalities from enforcing curfew and employment regulations stricter than state law for minors.

Democratic State Representative Anna Eskamani noted the bill filed here in Florida is part of a national trend.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, there have been at least 12 bills filed in 10 separate states over the past two years aimed at loosening child labor laws.

“The reason why child labor laws exist is because we don’t look at children as our baseline workers. We see children as children,” said Eskamani.

We reached out to the bill sponsor and the Foundation for Government Accountability, which has supported similar legislation in other states.

Neither were available for comment.

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Eskamani said in other states, the workforce shortage has been used to justify the push to loosen child labor laws.

She imagines it’s the same story behind the Florida bill.

“As we have seen anti-immigrant policies go into place, the immigrant workforce has shrunk in states like Florida. So, instead of addressing that challenge, the solution is to just make kids do it. It’s really gross. It’s unAmerican,” said Eskamani.

It’s unclear whether the bill will get traction, but Eskamani said she fears that based on the trajectory the state has gone under the Republican-controlled supermajorities in the Florida Legislature, a policy like this one could be seen more favorably than it may have in years past.

If the bill is signed into law, it is slated to take effect on July 1, 2024.

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William Clayton

William Clayton, Action News Jax

Digital reporter and content creator for Action News Jax

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