In Indiana, A Republican Lawmaker Seeks To Scrap His State’s Child Labor Laws

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An Indiana state senator whose business employs numerous minors is pushing a bill that would loosen child labor laws.

Indiana state Senator Chip Perfect (R) is pushing for Senate Bill 342, which would get rid of work permit requirements for minors and remove restrictions on what hours 16 and 17 year old minors can work. Coincidentally, Perfect employs hundreds of minors at an Indiana ski resort.

Federal child labor laws protect those under 16, but are less restrictive for those aged 16 and 17 beyond wage requirements.

Perfect said that resort employees, including the many minors, "and his human resources director testified in favor of the bill during a committee hearing last week."

While Perfect’s ski resort, Perfect North, was inspected and had no violations in 2018, changed child labor laws would mean Perfect North could hire more minors who would work more hours.

The policy director for political watchdog group Common Cause Indiana, Julia Vaughn, says that it is difficult to say if, under Indiana laws, Perfect’s involvement is a conflict of interest for the bill.

"Given the fact that he employs a significant number of minors, his involvement in the issue would certainly trigger a second look and extra scrutiny," Vaughn said. "But it's difficult under the current Senate rules to figure out the extent of the financial impact on Senator Perfect, and therefore, we're kind of left in this vague area where it's not clear."

Senate rules in Indiana only say that a lawmaker should consider whether or not the bill would have a “unique, direct, and material effect” before voting on a bill.

Perfect argued that there is no conflict of interest, saying, "It wouldn't affect me directly, because as I testified today, we have invested an incredible amount of money and we are currently adhering to the laws. This is really more about small businesses who cannot afford the resources to adhere to these antiquated laws."

The chair of the chamber’s ethics committee, Senator Liz Brown, said that the panel does not review concerns about conflicts of interest unless specifically requested by a lawmaker or someone else.

Proponents of the bill say that the long, bureaucratic process of getting work permits approved by the school, the employee, and the student, is outdated and difficult.

Mat Eckert, CEO of Holiday World, said "It's an administrative burden on the school system, it's an administrative burden on the parents and the students, and it's an administrative burden on us, considering that (work permits) really serve no purpose."

Advocates also say that federal law sufficiently protects minors.

Opponents contest that completely removing child labor laws in Indiana is not the answer to work permit complaints.

Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association, said, "We oppose this bill because we think it's doing away with some laws that are appropriate and still suitable to make sure students do not work excessive hours, late hours. There is a need for these laws. They're serving their purpose."

Indiana child labor laws do not allow 16-year-old employees to work past 10 p.m. or over 30 hours per school week or 40 hours per non-school week, unless they are granted parental permission. Minors are also required to have 30-minute breaks for every six hours they work.

"All of these Indiana-specific laws were passed for a reason," said Rob Henderson, executive director of Indiana State AFL-CIO. "Just undoing them, ... I don’t understand the intent, other than just trying to be able to work minors more hours."