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A rollback of Florida's child labor law has passed the House

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The bill would let 16- and 17-year-olds work more than 30 hours a week during the school year, and work past 11 on school nights.

The Florida House has approved a bill that would roll back child labor protections for 16- and 17-year-olds.

The bill would let 16- and 17-year-olds work more than 30 hours a week during the school year, and work past 11 on school nights. The House voted 80 to 35 to pass it. All but one of the opponents were Democrats.

Debate and questions on the bill lasted more than an hour. Democratic House Leader Fentrice Driskell says she was surprised that the legislature is loosening child labor laws instead of strengthening them.

“This is 2024, this is not the 1900’s this is not the 1800’s. Just because our children like to play Minecraft doesn’t me we should send them back into the mines,” she said.

But bill sponsor, St. Pete Republican Representative Linda Chaney, said her bill just brings Florida more in line with national standards.

“And I have yet to hear one person go to Washington and say we need to change the federal labor laws. Not one person has told me they have gone and done that. We’re also aligned with 24 other states,” she said.

The legislation comes as Florida is undergoing a statewide labor shortage. The bill was drafted and supported by business advocacy groups. Orlando Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani argued employers should be looking to increase pay to attract employees instead of lawmakers loosening child labor protections.

“Not every adult wants to work in what is a low wage job. I don’t think it’s fair to just replace children with that. We should just pay workers better. If we pay workers better, they will work in these jobs that some might consider to be low skill, but I would consider that any job is a good job,” Eskamani said.

Spring Hill Republican Representative Jeff Holcomb views it a little differently. He said that he worked since he was 12, and allowing teens to work full time will help them build a stronger work ethic.

“I worked all the time because that is the work ethic that got me here today. I wouldn’t have walked enough doors to win an election if I hadn’t got that work ethic at 12. Folks, we don’t need to coddle our kids. We don’t have to wrap them in bubble wrap. We need to let them work, if they want to,” he said.

While the bill has passed the House, its Senate companion is still apart on several key provisions. Whatever passes both chambers would still need Governor Ron DeSantis’ approval.

Tristan Wood is a senior producer and host with WFSU Public Media. A South Florida native and University of Florida graduate, he focuses on state government in the Sunshine State and local panhandle political happenings.