Lawmakers move bill that updates rules for employing minors

Indiana lawmakers on Tuesday continued to advance a bill that addresses how and when businesses can employ minors.

Senate Bill 409, authored by Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, eliminates the work-permit requirement for minors and tweaks some of the hours they can work.

“We need to take away any unneeded barriers to get them career-training opportunities,” Messmer said.

The bill also switches oversight of child labor from the Indiana Department of Education to the Indiana Department of Labor, and requires the labor department create a public database for a business to register if it employs minors.

The legislation is somewhat similar to a measure filed in 2019 by Sen. Chip Perfect, R-Lawrenceburg. Perfect’s bill also would have removed the work permit requirements for minors, but it went a step further and also eliminated restrictions on hours that 16- and 17-year-olds could work. Some critics of the bill argued that was going too far.

Perfect also was accused of having a conflict of interest because he is the CEO of Perfect North Slopes, a ski resort that employs hundreds of minors.

After the criticism, Perfect amended the bill to send the issue to a study committee—essentially killing it for the session. He said having his company testify in favor of it was “a shortcut and a distraction.”

But his company again spoke in favor of it at the Statehouse earlier this year. And Perfect voted to support the bill when it passed the Senate 48-1 earlier this month.

Indiana Senate rules say a lawmaker should consider whether a bill has a “unique, direct and material effect” before voting on it. Last year, the Senate Ethics Committee decided that he did not have a conflict of interest.

“Like last year, I sought guidance from the Senate Ethics Committee on whether it would be appropriate for me to vote on this issue,” Perfect said. “Like last year, the bipartisan Ethics Committee ruled that it would not be an ethical violation for me to vote on this bill. As such, I was happy to vote in favor of SB 409 because I believe this will go a long way to help remove unnecessary barriers for our young people who are seeking employment.”

Julia Vaughn, policy director for political watchdog group Common Cause Indiana, said Perfect should have recused himself from the vote.

“While authoring the bill is a more direct conflict of interest, he’s still got a financial interest in the legislation,” Vaughn said.

SB 409, which passed out of the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday morning, would update state law to mirror federal regulations overseeing the employment of minors ages 14 and 15 years old.

Federal law limits 14-15 year olds to working up to eight hours per day on non-school days and no more than three hours per day on a school day. They are limited to 40 hours per week when not in school and 18 hours per week when in school. They also cannot work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m., unless it is between June 1 and Labor Day, when they can work until 9 p.m.

The current state law limits 14- and 15-year-olds to working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on days that precede school days and until 10 p.m. on a day that does not precede a school day.

For 16-17 year olds, SB 409 would limit them to working up to nine hours per day, 40 hours in a school week and 48 hours in a non-school week. Current law allows this only with written parental permission.

The bill also would restrict 16- and 17- year-olds to working six days in any given week and to jobs not starting before 6 a.m. They could work until 10 p.m. in certain occupations, and if they had written permission from a parent, they could work until 11 p.m. on a night prior to a school day.

The hours are extended from current law, which limits work to eight hours per day and 30 hours in a week. Current law also allows 17-year-olds to work until 11:30 p.m. with written permission from a parent.

Federal law does not restrict how many hours 16- and 17-year-olds may work.

Some exceptions for work-based learning programs through schools are carved out in the legislation.

The bill also removes several other requirements, including giving minors rest breaks and getting written permission from a child’s school to have them work between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Instead of requiring students to receive work permits from their school, the bill requires the Department of Labor to establish a public database where employers would have to register, acknowledging they employ minors.

Information on the minors the businesses employ would only be made available to the Department of Labor, but the list of companies would be public.

The bill calls for the database to be developed by July 1, 2021.

Matt Eckert, president and CEO of Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, testified in support of the bill on Tuesday. He said the theme park employs an average of 2,000 individuals every year and nearly half are minors, so the additional work hours would be beneficial to his business.

“Schools should always come first for our youth,” Eckert said. “We’re providing supplemental skills.”

The Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association and the Indiana Manufacturers Association also support the bill.

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