New Iowa Child Labor Bill Puts Teens In ‘Very Dangerous Spot,’ Opponents Warn

Kellie Paschke, a lobbyist with the Iowa Association for Justice, speaks in opposition to expanding Iowa’s child labor laws during an Iowa Senate Workforce committee hearing Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023.

Opponents of a bill that could expand more types of work to younger Iowans had “real problems” with the bill, including a provision exempting nearly all liability from businesses who employ children in work-based learning programs.

The bill, Senate File 167, was described by supporting senators and lobbyists as a way to make up for the state’s shrinking workforce and provide more opportunities for Iowa teenagers as young as 14 to take on more job duties, including hazardous ones, and work longer hours, including during the school year.

The bill would allow children as young as 14 a wider array of potentially risky work, and both 14- and 15-year-olds could be scheduled for work shifts that last later into the evening. If they’re engaged in work-based learning, a business could get a waiver for them to do virtually any job. Most egregious, opponents say, is the section of the bill that would make a business not liable for almost anything that happens to minors engaged in work-based learning programs.

In favor of loosening child labor laws

Sen. Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig), who introduced the bill and presided over Thursday’s senate subcommittee hearing on it, said he had talked to teenagers who were “very excited” about the bill.

“We want to make sure that we are providing all the opportunities we can,” agreed J.D. Davis of the Iowa Association of Business.

Jessica Dunker of the Iowa Restaurant Association said provisions that would drop the age needed to carry alcohol to a table and allow teens to work until 9 p.m. on school nights were needed.

“Nine o’clock? I’m sure they’re doing something already,” she said of 14- and 15-year-olds. Others argued children that age participated in sports or other extracurricular activities that already took them away from home for long hours.

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Opponents say bill would ‘put children in a very dangerous spot’

Sen. Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo), however, said he had “real problems” with the bill, including “a great number of provisions,” he thought would run afoul of federal law.

But his “absolute problem” with the bill was granting companies almost total civil immunity if a teenager is hurt or killed on the job.

“That very much troubles me, because not only do we put children in a very dangerous spot, we are saying the business has no liability,” he said.

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Pete Hird of the Iowa Federation of Labor pointed out that 48 Iowans died on the job last year, adding he didn’t want to see young teens added to that list.

Kellie Paschke of the Iowa Association for Justice said the law would exempt businesses from their own negligent acts.

“If the business is reaping the benefit of the work being done, they should also bear the responsibility for the liability,” she said.

Connie Ryan of Iowa Interfaith Alliance said poor and nonwhite teens would bear the brunt of the legislation’s harms.

“If it is so difficult to find workers, perhaps there are other ways,” Ryan said, suggesting businesses could raise wages or provide better working standards instead of recruiting younger teens.

The bill advanced out of committee and will next be debated in the Iowa Senate.


by Amie Rivers

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