By Harm Venhuizen
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Lawmakers in several states are embracing legislation to let children work in more hazardous occupations, longer hours on school nights and in expanded roles including serving alcohol in bars and restaurants as young as 14.
The efforts to significantly roll back labor rules are largely led by Republican lawmakers to address worker shortages and in some cases run afoul of federal regulations.
Child welfare advocates worry the measures represent a coordinated push to scale back hard-won protections for minors.
“The consequences are potentially disastrous,” said Reid Maki, director of the Child Labor Coalition, which advocates against exploitative labor policies. “You can’t balance a perceived labor shortage on the backs of teen workers.”
Lawmakers proposed loosening child labor laws in at least 10 states over the past two years, according to a report published last month by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. Some bills became law, while others were withdrawn or vetoed.
Legislators in Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa are actively considering relaxing child labor laws to address worker shortages. Employers have struggled to fill open positions after a spike in retirements, deaths and illnesses from COVID-19, decreases in legal immigration and other factors.
Wisconsin lawmakers back a proposal to allow 14-year-olds to serve alcohol in bars and restaurants. If passed, Wisconsin would have the lowest such limit nationwide, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.