By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — With the full House ready to take up a bill that would loosen work restrictions for 16- and 17-year-old youths, the Senate began moving forward Tuesday with a proposal that would not be as far-reaching.
The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee approved a proposal (SB 1596) that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work as late as midnight when school is scheduled the next day, a change from the current 11 p.m. limit.
Also, the Senate bill would revise a prohibition on 16- and 17-year-olds working more than eight hours when school is scheduled the next day. The bill would allow them to work more than eight hours if the work day is a holiday or a Sunday.
The House on Thursday is scheduled to take up its version (HB 49) of the bill, which would eliminate the restriction on working more than eight hours when school is scheduled the next day. It also would eliminate a restriction on 16- and 17-year-olds working more than 30 hours in a week when school is in session.
The House bill would keep in place the 11 p.m. work limit on school nights.
The proposals have been controversial, with groups such as the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association supporting loosening restrictions and groups such as the Florida AFL-CIO opposing changes.
Senate sponsor Danny Burgess (pictured above), R-Zephyrhills, said the Senate version takes a “very surgical approach” and does not repeal the state’s decades-old child labor law.
“We took a lot of time and had a lot of cooks in this kitchen to make sure that what we’re doing is responsible,” Burgess told the Senate committee. “And we are looking to basically address the fact that not a one-size-fits-all system works for everybody.”
But Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, said the bill is motivated by wanting to get more workers. He said standards were approved in 1986 because of child-labor violations in the state.
“The bottom line is the current process works,” Templin said. “This is not something that needs to be adjusted or tweaked.”
Senators who supported the bill cited their work experiences as teens, while also trying to make clear that Burgess’ proposal is different from the House bill. Supporters also pointed to workplace changes since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I do think it’s important that these are not the same bills and that your (Burgess’) bill does, I think, strike a balance and gives children and parents an opportunity to be able to operate and work in a post-COVID environment … how schedules are much more fluid now, and … no one’s required to work until midnight. There’s still parental involvement,” committee Chairman Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, said.
But Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, expressed concerns about 16-year-old youths potentially working until midnight on school nights. She said, in part, that a lack of sleep can affect student learning.
“It’s the hours that is the most concerning,” Stewart said. “You start getting into those hours, and what happens is the kids can’t catch up (with sleep, which) is going to be a huge factor in getting good grades.