HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Two bills introduced during Florida’s legislative session could set back decades of progress with child labor laws, according to child advocates.
If passed, House Bill 49, Employment and Curfew of Minors, and its companion bill, Senate Bill 1596, Employment of Minors, would allow employers to extend work hours for youth ages 16 and 17 in Florida. The bill’s sponsor, St. Pete Beach Florida House Representative Linda Chaney, said that the bill would offer more flexibility to young people.
Isis Mack is in AP courses at Florida Virtual School. The 16-year-old even skipped a grade and is now a junior and on track to study law. She says she owes her academic success to her parents and not having to deal with the pressures of maintaining employment.
“Not having to work has made it better for me because I don’t have to deal with it if my boss calls me right now,” she said.
Isis says she understands not every teen is as fortunate.
“Some people have to pick up hours while they are trying to get their degree,” she said. “People without diplomas are destined to be low-wage workers.”
This is why the youth activist has been against the HB 49 which, if passed, would allow employers to schedule 16- and 17-year-olds in Florida to work earlier hours, work more than eight hours per day on a school night, and work more than six days in a row — and without a break.
“In your years where your brain is developing the most, you should not be working a job and paying bills,” Isis’ mother, Laquita Beal, said.
Beal is concerned about overall child welfare and accountability.
The Youth Action Fund held a rally outside of the office of Chaney’s office. Cameron Driggers founded the organization to empower young voices like Isis’.
“This bill is not about youth freedom to work, it’s about youth freedom to exploit,” Driggers said.
The Florida Policy Institute released a statement stating it hopes the House rejects the bill.
Isis says whether they are or are not of voting age, youth can still weigh-in and make an impact.
“They are trying to invest in youth who are at the forefront of the fight, so when they reach voting age, they don’t have to put out so many fires,” she said.
The bill's sponsor, Republican State Rep. Linda Chaney said that the proposal is meant to help those that are looking for economic opportunity.
"Nearly a million searches have been performed. How can I get a job as a teen? They want to work. But these restrictions discourage employers from hiring them. This bill gets government out of their way to choose the path that's best for them and their families," she said during a debate on the measure.
The bill is now set to go through committee hearings and reviews at the Florida State Legislature.
If the bill is signed into law, it will take effect on July 1, 2024.