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Iowa teens could serve alcohol, work longer hours and apprentice in factories and mines under amended bill
Democrats say bill rolls back child labor protections
DES MOINES -- Iowa teens could work longer hours and more jobs, including those formerly off-limits as being hazardous, and serve alcohol under a controversial bill advanced Wednesday by House Republicans.
House Study Bill 134 passed out of the full House Commerce Committee on a party-line vote, with Democrats opposed, clearing a Friday legislative deadline and making it eligible for a House floor vote.
The legislation, among other provisions, would let teens as young as 14 to request a waiver from the directors of the state workforce and education agencies to work as apprentices in factories, mines, construction sites and warehouses, among others, as part of “work-based learning” programs.
Granting a waiver would require adequate supervision, training and safety precautions. And that the “terms and conditions” of the proposed employment “not interfere with the health, well-being or schooling of the minor enrolled in the” work-based learning program, registered apprenticeship, or career and technical education program.
House Republicans amended the bill by striking a provision that would have shielded businesses from civil liability if a youth worker is sickened, injured or killed on the job.
The provision drew national controversy, with critics saying the proposal is dangerous and would subject child workers to hazardous environments, and allow corporations already profiting from widespread use of illegal child labor to legalize their exploitation.
New language states employers are only immune from civil liability if a student participating in a “work-based learning program” is killed or injured driving to or from the work site, and provides an exception if the student “is acting within the scope of the student’s employment at the direction of the business.”
The amendment also makes technical changes and clarifies that children as young as 14 may work in industrial freezers and meat coolers labeling, weighing, pricing and stocking, provided they are separate from where meat is prepared.
Children as young as 14 also would not be allowed to work around dry cleaning chemicals.
At 15, they would be able to work as lifeguards and swimming instructors, perform light assembly-line work so long as they’re away from machinery and after obtaining a waiver from state officials, and load and unload up to 50 pounds of products from vehicles and store shelves with a waiver “depending on the strength and ability of the fifteen-year-old.”
Republicans said the bills would help businesses find workers in a tight labor market and to help young Iowans become more engaged in work.
Committee chair and Peosta Republican Rep. Shannon Lundgren said the bill will ”allow children to go out and explore new opportunities.“
Rep. Dave Deyoe, R-Nevada, the bill’s manager, argued concerns raised about putting children in harm’s way were overblown, and that the measure is aimed at updating an old law with reasonable standards reflective of current practice.
“We have 16-year-olds welding at John Deere,” Deyoe said. “So this is the type of program we’re currently doing. This law is not going to change that. It just broadens the language to make sure that all types of programs that we do right now for youth training are actually allowed. And, that it actually has the oversight through Iowa Workforce Development and the Iowa Department of Education.”
Iowa chapters of employer lobby groups representing small businesses, homebuilders and hotels and restaurants back the proposals.
Democrats and labor unions contend the measures weaken child labor protections.
“Having it in the classroom creates a more structured, safe environment than opening it up to work sites,” Rep. Megan Srinivas, D-Des Moines, said of allowing waivers for work-based learning programs.
Srinivas, too, noted the proposed changes also directly contradict federal labor law, and questioned whether Iowa employers would be subject to fines.
Federal rules prohibit 14- and 15-year-olds from working past 9 p.m. in the summer and 7 p.m. during the school year. The bill would extend that two hours to 11 p.m. and 9 p.m., respectively.
Deyoe argued three states bordering Iowa have made similar changes and have yet to be fined.
The proposal also would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol, with written permission of a parent.
Democrats objected to the provision, and said no other state allows a 16-year-old to serve alcohol unsupervised.
Maine allows workers 17 years or older to sell and serve alcoholic beverages when a person at least 21 years of age is present in a supervisory capacity.
Democrats said 16- and 17-year-olds generally lack the maturity to resist pressure from friends and others to serve someone underage, and worried about subjecting minors to sexual harassment and assault.
“Wherever there is alcohol, there is going to be sexual innuendo and touching and unwanted advances,” said Rep. David Jacoby, D-Coralville.
Lundgren bristled at the comments, stating “women, unfortunately, are sexually assaulted in doctor’s offices, in grocery store parking lots, in shopping malls.”
“I guarantee the way I run my business, and probably the way 95 percent of our bars and restaurants in the state of Iowa are very conscientious with these issues,” she said. “And to make an assumption that any time alcohol being consumed this is going to happen is really a slap in the face to those that work in this industry and that work very hard in this industry.”
Lundgren and her family own a bar and grill.
“One of the benefits of allowing (16- and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol) is that if you are a small family business that our kids can do a few more things to help our business grow,” she said. “And we have to answer that as well.”
Lundgren, though, said she had concerns about having minors work “in some of the bars in my district — and the cops know which ones they are.”
Deyoe suggested inserting language to limiting 16- and 17-year-olds to serving or selling alcohol in restaurants and not taverns.
“There’s still a good chance there will be amendment and we still don’t know if the Senate is on board with everything here,” he said.
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