June 13, 2024




© Rachel Mummey for The Washington Post
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) in March in Des Moines.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday said she will sign a bill to roll back labor protections for children, allowing them to work longer hours and take jobs that had been prohibited.

The measure would permit children as young as 14 to work in roofing, construction and demolition, provided they are part of educational or apprenticeship programs and a parent has granted permission for the work. They would also be allowed to do light assembly work and assist customers in businesses that sell fireworks, as long as no machines are present.

The legislation eliminates state regulations on the number of hours 16- and 17-year-olds can work and allows them to serve alcohol in restaurants with parental permission.

It also bars workers younger than 18 from working in “establishments where nude or topless dancing is performed.”

The bill lifts “unnecessary restrictions” on minors who wish to work and creates new opportunities for young people “to work to get ahead in life or save money for college,” Reynolds (R) said in a statement to The Washington Post.

“Iowans are proud to be known for our strong work ethic, and we want to instill those same values in the next generation,” Reynolds said.

State legislators gave the bill final approval Wednesday evening in mostly party line votes. In the state Senate, two Republicans joined Democrats in opposition.

The measure — championed by conservative lobbying groups, the state restaurant association and the state industry group for home builders, among others — is the latest in a raft of state measures passed or under consideration that loosen restrictions on minors’ work.

A law passed in Arkansas in March eliminated work permits and age verification requirements for workers younger than 16, and similar legislation is advancing in Missouri. Other child labor proposals have been introduced in Minnesota, Ohio and Georgia.

Wisconsin legislators on Monday introduced a bill to allow children as young as 14 to serve alcohol in restaurants.

Opponents of the Iowa bill said it will put children in dangerous occupations at a young age and stunt their educational development.

“Do I want my 16-year-old operating a power saw as a job? No, I don’t,” Charlie Wishman, president of the Iowa branch of the AFL-CIO, said in an interview.

Debbie Berkowitz, a fellow at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, described the Iowa measure as “the most anti-child, anti-family bill that I’ve seen” related to child labor. “This law is an ideological solution when there is no problem,” she said.

Supporters, meanwhile, have cheered the legislation as a potential solution to workforce shortages and rising labor costs. The Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative policy group that lobbied on the bill and legislation in Missouri and Arkansas, has called teens “a critical source of labor.”

Dan Zumbach (R), a member of the Iowa Senate, said the bill gives children opportunities to learn about new professions and gain workforce experience.

“I was almost begging to get to work at age 5,” he said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “I wanted to let folks know that I knew how to work. … We have sheltered our kids so much they’ve forgotten how to do one of the things we’re all training them to do, and that’s how to work. And they will learn some jobs that they never want to do again.”