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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee.

Florida Senate looking to narrow controversial child labor bill

A person tears a labor with the words "Child Labor"
Unsplash
A person tears a labor with the words "Child Labor"

The Florida Senate is trying to distance itself from a controversial house proposal that would roll back child labor laws.

While the house version of the bill would change state law to let 16- and 17-year-olds work more than 30 hours a week during the school year, and work past 11 on school nights, the Senate version of the bill keeps the state’s child labor laws mostly intact.

SB 1596 by Zephyrhills Republican Senator Danny Burgess would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work more than eight hours on Sundays and holidays, work till midnight and provide an exemption to hour restrictions for students enrolled in home, or virtual school programs.

During a committee hearing on his bill Tuesday, Burgess was quick to distinguish his bill from the House proposal.

“I want to be very clear that this is not a repeal of Florida’s child labor law. That is a different bill, that is not the bill that is before you. This is a very narrow, we, we took a lot of time and had a lot of hands, cooks in the kitchen to make sure what we are doing is responsible. And we are looking to address the fact that not a one size fits all system works for everybody,” he said.

While his bill is different, that didn’t stop dozens from showing up for public comment against it. Florida AFL-CIO representative Rich Templin said during the committee that although the bill is substantially different, he doesn’t see any need to tweak child labor protections. He is concerned if it is changed a little now, it opens the door for further changes down the road.

“The bottom line is the current process works. This is not something that needs to be adjusted or tweaked. Everything is in place to accomplish what the bill sponsor has said he wants to accomplish,” Templin said.

Which bill version will become law remains uncertain. The House version is set to be considered by the whole house chamber on Thursday, but its language would still need to be approval from the Senate, which doesn’t currently seem willing to back off from their proposal.

Panama City Republican Senator Jay Trumbull, who chairs a committee that backed the bill, said much of the criticism is levied at what the House version of the measure would do, not the one he supports.

“I do think it is important that these are not the same bills, and your bill does, I think, strike a balance and gives children and parents an opportunity to be able to operate and work in a post-covid environment to your point in your opening when you talked about how schedules are much more fluid now,” he said.

Tristan Wood is a senior producer and host with WFSU Public Media. A South Florida native and University of Florida graduate, he focuses on state government in the Sunshine State and local panhandle political happenings.