Looser child labor standards revived by committee that had temporarily blocked bill

Published 11:46 am Tuesday, March 19, 2024

By Liam Niemeyer 

Kentucky Lantern 

A bill that would allow some teenagers to work longer and later hours advanced out of a Senate committee Friday just a day after the same committee had blocked it.

Email newsletter signup

House Bill 255, sponsored by Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, was passed 7-4 out of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism, & Labor Committee in a special-called meeting. Republican Sens. Phillip Wheeler and Brandon Storm joined the minority of Democrats in opposing the bill. The bill had failed to receive enough votes to pass the committee on Thursday

State law limits the number of hours that 16- and 17-year-olds can work on a school day to six. That limit increases to eight hours on a non-school day and up to 30 hours total during a school week, unless they receive parental permission to work more and maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average.

HB 255 would remove those state limits to align with federal child labor law, which doesn’t have any daily or weekly hour work limits for teenagers aged 16 and 17.

Speaking to the committee, Jamie Link, secretary of the state Education and Labor Cabinet, reiterated concerns that removing the limits could harm young Kentuckians.

“It may well create greater liabilities for employers who employ 14- to 17-year-olds outside existing safety guidelines and regulations, and potentially cut short promising careers for our young people,” Link said.

Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, the chair of the House Agriculture Committee who was presenting the bill in lieu of the sponsor, said he didn’t “necessarily agree” with Link’s testimony.

“It’s a good thing this wasn’t a law when I was growing up. Our dad wouldn’t have been able to put out a crop,” Heath said. “Obviously I support the bill.” Child labor laws do not apply to children working on their parents’ farm.

The bill also deletes language in state law that mirrors federal prohibitions on employing 14- and 15-year olds in hazardous occupations, such as jobs that require the use of ladders, railroad cars and conveyors and loading and unloading goods from motor vehicles, according to Dwayne Hammonds, the Kentucky Division of Wages and Hours director.

Education and Labor Cabinet General Counsel Jessica Williamson also said state labor officials wouldn’t be able to enforce those hazardous occupation standards even though they would still be prohibited under federal law.

Opposing the bill, Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, said, “When it comes to allowing 14- to 17- year olds to engage in labor that’s dangerous, harmful and threatens their life, and Kentucky has no oversight on that — we’re taking away Kentucky’s oversight — count me out on that.”