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Who Needs Child Labor Laws?

It is not hard, if you are a member of Congress or of a state legislature, to propose a bill. Indeed, most proposed bills are basically for show, since only a small fraction of them get considered by legislators, and an even smaller fraction actually become law. Consequently, it is not generally worthwhile to take note of particularly nutty proposals, since they will never be more than vaporware.

That said, sometimes a proposed bill is extra nutty, and yet also manages to attract some meaningful amount of support. So it is with a bill brought to our attention by reader J.S. in The Hague, Netherlands. The bill in question is Iowa S.B. 167, and it would come dangerously close to re-legalizing child labor, thus reversing one of the main accomplishments of the Progressive movement 100 years ago.

Iowa, like most states, already has limited provisions for people to work at paid jobs before they have reached adulthood. For example, 16-year-olds can work some number of hours at fast food restaurants, or as retail clerks. On the other hand, at the moment, underage Iowans cannot work at a slaugterhouse, or in demolition, or as roofers, or in mining operations. These seem sensible limitations, right?

To some Iowa Republicans, the answer to that question is "no." And so, the proposed Iowa law would make it possible for underage workers to take jobs in these, and other, restricted lines of work. All that would be required would be that employers affirm that underage workers receive "adequate supervision and training" that there be "adequate safety precautions" and that "the terms and conditions of the proposed employment will not interfere with the health, well-being or schooling of the minor enrolled in an approved program." This seems very enforceable. After all, a business would never, ever fudge the truth about how well they are treating their employees, right?

If an employer is found to have violated the laws, they would potentially be subject to a fine of up to $10,000 per employee. Of course, if the choice is between paying an adult a full-time salary, and paying a teenager peanuts and then hoping there are no fines, that's a pretty easy risk-reward analysis. Oh, and in case there's not incentive enough for employers to push their luck, the new legislation would also allow the Iowa state labor commissioner to waive the fine. It would also exempt a company from liability if one of their teenage employees was sickened, injured or killed due to the company's negligence.

The Iowa senator who sponsored this bill (Jason Schultz, R-Crawford County) and the other senators who are backing it either want to turn the clock back 100 years, or are completely in the thrall of business interests, or both. One would hope that the bill could never, ever become law, especially given the blowback it has generated. But given the number of nutters in the Iowa legislature right now, you just don't know. In any case, once again, the Trumpy wing of the Republican Party reminds us of a famous remark from Maya Angelou: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." (Z)

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