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Indiana House panel OKs child labor-referee measure

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An Indiana House panel on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure pushed by a 13-year-old boy that would allow sports leagues to hire youngsters like him as referees.

The bill pushed by the House's labor committee now heads to the full House for a vote as early as next week that could send it to Gov. Mike Pence's desk.

Current Indiana law prevents children younger than 14 from being hired except as golf caddies, farm workers and newspaper deliverers, the Evansville Courier & Press reported.

But 13-year-old Matthew Burkart of Newburgh wants to add officiating youth sports to the list of exemptions. He hopes to referee soccer games before his next birthday.

"This bill will get kids off the couches and iPads and help teach us responsibility, commitment and confidence through a job that we can enjoy for much of our lives," the teen told committee members.

Murray Clark, president of the Indiana Soccer Association and former Indiana Republican Party chairman, is supporting the bill. He told the committee the measure "affects about 300 Matthews statewide."

Clark said his organization, which includes about 60,000 players across Indiana, had worked to recruit 12- and 13-year-old referees to officiate younger players' games "to improve the refereeing by starting the referees younger."

But he said that effort stopped last year after the Indiana Department of Labor notified the association that it was running afoul of state child labor laws.

"Now, all of a sudden, you have these clubs that have these games or a tournament with 8-, 9-, 10-year-old players and there's a shortage" of referees, Clark said. "In these instances, that's when the 12- and 13-year-old kids could officiate."

Burkart gave committee members packets with letters of support signed by the mayors of Indianapolis, Evansville, Fort Wayne and South Bend, as well as college presidents, other school officials and law enforcement officials.

He also handed out a petition signed by 140 soccer players, coaches, referees and parents. They include Lauren Cheney, an Indiana native and member of the United States women's national team.

Republican Rep. Doug Gutwein of Francesville, the committee's chairman, was among the committee members who complimented the teen for his lobbying efforts.

"Some of you older folk might want to pay attention to how to testify," Gutwein said.

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