Fla. House Republicans approve bill to let teens work more than 30 hours a week

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By Giselle Balido

February 2, 2024

The bill is opposed by 72% of Floridians, but if it becomes law, 16 and 17-year-olds would be allowed to work the same hours as adults, even on school nights.

Florida Republicans overwhelmingly voted in favor of relaxing restrictions on child labor laws this week when they passed a measure allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to work more than 30 hours a week and as late as 11 p.m. on a school night.

After rejecting a total of nine amendments offered by Democrats to shore up protections for teenage workers, all but one House Republican–Mike Beltran of Riverview–voted along party lines to pass the Employment and Curfew of Minors bill (House Bill 49) by a vote of 80-35.  

If the bill becomes law, 16 and 17-year-olds would be allowed to work the same hours as adults. Additionally, under existing law, employers are required to provide them breaks every four hours. But that would also change under HB 49, which would hold teens to the same break standards as adults. However, in Florida there would be no legal requirements for breaks in the workplace.

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Asked about the consequences of doing away with the break requirement for teens, Rep. Linda Chaney—a St. Pete Beach Republican and a small business owner who sponsored the bill—replied that if teens are not happy with something, “they will ghost us at lunch time.” She then added that employers would not exploit minors, because it costs more to hire a new employee than to retain staff.

In response, Orange Democratic Rep. Rita Harris questioned the motives for relaxing the child labor laws across the state. 

“We as a legislative body talk so much about protecting children, and yet here we are opening up the possibility that children will be exploited as cheap labor. They deserve so much more.” 

Seventy-two percent of Florida voters say they oppose the measure, according to a survey commissioned by the nonpartisan Florida Policy Institute (FPI), with 19% supporting the change and 9% undecided. The poll has a 3.5-percentage-point margin of error.

RELATED: 72% of Florida voters oppose bill loosening child labor protections

The Senate version of the bill (SB 1596) would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work starting at 5:30 a.m. and until midnight on a school night. The Senate also advanced SB 460, a bill that would bar 16- and 17-year-olds from working on commercial construction sites, while allowing them on jobs with scaffolding, roofs, and ladders under six feet.

This has raised concerns about exposing underage workers to on-the-job injuries and fatalities. Studies have shown that younger workers have a high risk of on-the-job injury due to factors “such as attitude (invincibility), lack of safety training, low job control (e.g., fear of speaking out, replaceability), unfamiliarity with workplace rights, inexperience, and working dangerous jobs,” according to the Florida Agency for HealthCare Administration’s inpatient hospitalization and emergency department, among other sources.

“[Our children] are deeply engaged in educational pursuits and extracurricular activities that spark joy and ignite flames of lifelong interest,” said Orange County Democratic Rep. Lavon Bracy Davis, a Democrat. “To place the weight of labor upon their shoulders is to extinguish these flames, to snuff out the spark before they can ever truly catch fire.”

Author

  • Giselle Balido

    Giselle is Floricua's political correspondent. She writes about the economy, environmental and social justice, and all things Latino. A published author, Giselle was born in Havana and grew up in New Jersey and Miami. She is passionate about equality, books, and cats.

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