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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs youth labor bill into law
It allows 14- to 17-year-old Iowans to work more jobs at longer hours, creating more opportunities, according to supporters, while critics say it will put children in harm’s way in the workplace
DES MOINES — Working more jobs at longer hours is now an option for Iowa youth between the ages of 14 to 17 after Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday signed into law legislation that critics say will put young Iowans in dangerous workplace settings.
While the new law is significantly watered down from its initial form in the Iowa Legislature this year, it strips away some restrictions on jobs that 14- to 17-year-olds are allowed to work.
Supporters have said the bill provides more opportunities for young Iowans who want to work and could help address the state’s shortage of workers.
“With this legislation, Iowa joins 20 other states in providing tailored, common-sense labor provisions that allow young adults to develop their skills in the workforce,” Reynolds said in a statement after signing Senate File 542 into law.
“In Iowa, we understand there is dignity in work, and we pride ourselves on our strong work ethic,” Reynolds said. “Instilling those values in the next generation and providing opportunities for young adults to earn and save to build a better life should be available.”
The new law addresses youth labor regulations in myriad ways. Among them:
- 16- and 17-year-olds, with parental permission, can serve alcohol in restaurants — but not in bars or strip clubs,
- 16- and 17-year-olds can participate in work-based learning programs in areas like manufacturing.
- 14- and 15-year-olds can work later hours (until 9 p.m. during the school year and until 11 p.m. during the summer); people over age 16 can work the same hours as adults.
Work-based learning programs must be approved by Iowa Workforce Development or the Iowa Department of Education, and employers must demonstrate work performed by 16- and 17-year-olds will be done under adequate supervision and training that includes proper safety precautions.
Bill was revised
The new law also creates a legislative committee to look into whether teenagers ages 14 and older should be able to receive a special permit to drive themselves to work.
The early version of the bill drew significant backlash and national attention. It originally contained language that would have allowed Iowa minors to work in dangerous industries like mining, logging and meatpacking. Those provisions were removed from the bill during the legislative process.
The final bill passed the Iowa Legislature with only Republican support. It was supported by Iowa’s restaurant industry and, according to state lobbying records, groups representing hotels, home construction companies, and the grocery store chain Fareway.
The long list of groups registered as opposing the bill included groups representing medical professionals, labor union, and educators.
“The concerns are still valid because it still has kids working in dangerous conditions, and it still has kids working more hours than they should be,” Iowa Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, a Democrat from Windsor Heights and the leader of the minority party Democrats in the Iowa House, said recently on Iowa PBS’ “Iowa Press.”
Statehouse Democrats also have criticized the bill for potential conflicts with federal youth labor regulations, arguing the new law puts businesses in a difficult spot by creating two sets of rules: one from the state and one from the federal government.
“It’s just going to cause more confusion,” Konfrst said.
The U.S. Department of Labor wrote a letter laying out what it said were multiple violations of federal labor regulations in the bill. However, the department’s assessment applied to an earlier version of the bill, which was different from the one Reynolds signed into law.
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