Iowa Governor Signs Bill Loosening Child Labor Laws

Lawmakers stripped out provisions that would have applied to children as young as 14.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gives the Condition of the State address at the state Capitol in Des Moines, Jan. 10, 2023.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gives the Condition of the State address at the state Capitol in Des Moines, Jan. 10, 2023.
Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register via AP, File

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) β€” Iowa teenagers could work more jobs and for longer hours under a bill signed into law Friday by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The Republican governor signed the law after it was approved by the Legislature earlier in May with only Republican support. Several states are embracing a rollback of child labor laws in response to complaints from business owners that they can't find enough workers. Iowa's April unemployment rate was 2.7%.

"With this legislation Iowa joins 20 other states in providing tailored, common sense labor provisions that allow young adults to develop their skills in the workforce," Reynolds said in a statement.

Child welfare advocates worry the measures represent a coordinated push to scale back hard-won protections for minors.

Legislators removed language in earlier versions of the bill that would have let state officials allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work in jobs now banned for minors. Some potentially dangerous work such as mining and meatpacking also would be off limits to those younger than 18.

The new law would let 16- and 17-year-olds work in areas such as manufacturing as long as it was in a work-based learning program given an exemption by the Iowa Department of Education or Iowa Workforce Development. Those jobs could potentially mean the teens would operate power saws or join in demolition.

Under the new rules, 16- and 17-year-olds also could serve alcohol in restaurants as long as business owners have written permission from the worker's parent or guardian. Two adult employees would need to be in an area where the children served drinks, and restaurant employees would need to complete sexual harassment prevention training.

The law would also let children younger than 16 work up to six hours a day while school is in session. They previously could work no more than four hours.

Reynolds on Friday signed a dozen bills into law ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, including high-profile legislation that bans instruction on gender identity from classrooms through grade six, and books that include sex acts from school libraries.

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