Wisconsin Republicans propose eliminating work permits for 14- and 15-year-olds

FILE - A worker heads into the JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley, Colo., Oct. 12, 2020. Kids ages 14 and 15 would no longer need a work permit or parental permission to get a job under a bill Wisconsin Republicans released on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

By Associated Press

August 21, 2023

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Children ages 14 and 15 would no longer need a work permit or parental permission to get a job under a bill Republican Wisconsin lawmakers released on Friday.

The proposal comes amid a wider push by state lawmakers to roll back child labor lawsand despite the efforts of federal investigators to crack down on a surge in child labor violations nationally.

Under current law, 14- and 15-year-olds in Wisconsin are prohibited from working most jobs unless they have permission from a parent or guardian and have verified their age with the state Department of Workforce Development. The department can revoke youth work permits at any time if it believes a child’s safety is being threatened.

Sen. Cory Tomczyk and Reps. Clint Moses and Amy Binsfeld, the Republicans sponsoring the bill, called youth work permits “needless administrative barriers that slow down the hiring process.”

“It’s important that young people have the opportunity to work without having to endure excessive government regulation,” they said in a statement asking other lawmakers to cosponsor the bill.

The bill continues to require employers to keep their own records of employees’ ages and hours worked, but without work permits verified by a state agency, companies caught violating child labor laws can more easily claim ignorance.

Earlier this year, the Labor Department fined Wisconsin-based meat packing contractor Packers Sanitation more than $1.5 million for employing at least 100 children, some as young as 13, to clean dangerous equipment such as bone saws and skull splitters in plants across the U.S. The company claimed it wasn’t aware that those workers were minors but said it has since taken steps to improve the way it verifies employees’ ages.

State lawmakers across the country, largely Republicans, have in recent years embraced legislation that would allow kids to work longer hours and in more hazardous occupations. Many such bills were proposed as solutions to worker shortages, but advocates against child labor have decried the measures as needlessly endangering children.

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