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Iowa bill to loosen some child labor laws heads to governor's desk

Iowa's flag flapping near the gold dome of Iowa's Capitol.
John Pemble
Republicans in the Iowa Senate sent a bill to the governor’s desk Wednesday that would loosen some child labor laws.

Republicans in the Iowa Senate sent a billto the governor’s desk Wednesday that would loosen some child labor laws. The bill is more limited than the version that first passed the Senateafter the House amended it Tuesday.

Rep. Dave Deyoe, R-Nevada, managed the bill’s passage. He said the bill will benefit youth.

“And some of these benefits include less poverty, money for future education, less delinquent behavior, experience in the workplace and access to mentors and role models,” Deyoe said. “And finally, exposure to careers may mean a more successful future.”

House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said she’s grateful Republicans took some of Democrats’ suggestions to make the bill safer for kids. But Democrats still opposed the bill.

Konfrst said kids shouldn’t be used to solve the state’s workforce crisis.

“I still believe that 16- and 17-year-olds will be at risk in some of the jobs they’re allowed to work in this bill,” she said. “And I think that it’s not necessary.”

The bill passed the House 60-34, with all Republicans present supporting it and Democrats in opposition.

Top state officials could waive prohibitions on certain hazardous work activities for 16- and 17-year-olds in approved work-based learning programs. But unlike previous versions of the bill, 14- and 15-year-olds would not be allowed to do hazardous work in such programs.

The bill would still allow 16- and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol in restaurants with permission from a parent, but it now says that can only happen during hours that food is also being served.

It also specifies two adult employees must be present, any harassment of minors must be reported to the parents and the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, and all restaurant employees must attend sexual harassment prevention training.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said the amended bill is a lot better than the original. But he opposed it, saying it could still put kids in dangerous workplace settings, like allowing 14-year-olds to do momentary work in freezers and meat coolers.

“Senate Democrats do not oppose giving teens safe and age-appropriate work experiences that allow them to learn important skills and earn money to help themselves and their families,” Wahls said. “But they must be safe.”

The bill passed the Senate 29-18, with two Republicans joining all Democrats in voting no.

Deyoe pointed to parts of the bill he said strengthen Iowa’s child labor laws.

He said the bill adds safeguards for minors in work-based learning programs, including requiring the employer to provide training materials to the participant’s parents.

“I’m proud of the fact that we are updating this part of the code,” Deyoe said.

The amended version of the bill would prohibit sex offenders from employing minors.

It would also extend the hours that 14- and 15-year-olds can work. They could work until 9 p.m. during the school year instead of 7 p.m., and 11 p.m. during the summer instead of 9 p.m. They could work 6 hours per day during the school year instead of the current 4 hours a day, but the bill doesn’t increase the number of hours kids could work per week.

The bill also adds some work activities to the list of things that minors are permitted to do in the workplace.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter