Bill to expand teen work hours clears House floor

February 23, 2024 | 12:10 am

Updated February 23, 2024 | 1:19 am

Graphic by Owensboro Times

A bill that would give Kentucky teens more work-hour flexibility cleared the Kentucky House floor Thursday.

House Bill 255 was approved by a 60-36 vote. Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, serves as the primary sponsor of the legislation. He said Kentucky’s current child labor laws are restrictive, and his legislation would change that.

“Our legislation simply seeks to remove these barriers, aligning state regulations with federal standards, therefore allowing our teenagers the same opportunity as their peers in nearly half the states in our union,” Pratt said.

Under HB 255, some restrictions on work hours for 16- and 17-year-olds would be lifted, but the bill would still prohibit them from working certain jobs with a few exceptions.

Federal occupational safety laws already prohibit teens from working many occupations, Pratt said. Those occupations include manufacturing jobs other than clerical work, coal mining, forest firefighting, logging, roofing, work in alcohol distilleries and bottling plants, and most jobs that require operating heavy machinery like a forklift.

Exceptions would be allowed for teens who are enrolled in an apprenticeship or a student-learning program, according to the bill.

The bill would also keep restrictions on work hours for workers under the age of 16, but with some exceptions. Those exceptions include being enrolled in a work-study program, being a high school graduate or having a child to support.

During an hour-long debate on the bill, Pratt said HB 255 has the potential to improve graduation rates and workforce participation rates, among other benefits.

“Studies show that providing youth with meaningful work opportunities can significantly reduce youth crime rates and contribute to a more stable and prosperous society,” he said.

Some lawmakers disagreed. Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, said HB 255 is discriminatory and will lead to child exploitation.

“This bill targets low-income kids, migrants – the ones new to America, the ones who need to help their families cover living expenses and whose parents lack positional power and social capital and white privilege,” Raymond said.

Rep. Chad Aull, D-Lexington, said he is also concerned about the impact of HB 255 on Kentucky’s teenagers, especially when it comes to their education.

“While the intention of this bill may be to bolster the economic activity and address worker shortages, this legislation will result in a decrease in our student performance and an increase in our student dropout rates,” he said. “… We need to focus on keeping kids in school, not pushing them out into the workforce prematurely.”

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, spoke in support of HB 255. He and Pratt said the bill does not force children to get a job and does not take away a parent’s right to make decisions for their child. Truancy laws would also still be in effect.

“Parents still have every right to (tell) their children how long they can work, how many hours they can work, and they don’t have to exit school to go to work … I would encourage the members of the body to vote for the bill,” Meade said.

HB 255 will now go before the Senate for consideration.

Information from the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission.

February 23, 2024 | 12:10 am

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