Kentucky Committee Approves Controversial Bill to Extend Teen Work Hours, Raises Concerns for Safety and Education

FRANKFORT, Kentucky — The safety and educational success of Kentucky teenagers may be at risk as a bill proposing longer and later working hours for minors has gained approval from a House committee. House Bill 255, sponsored by Rep. Phillip Pratt, aims to repeal Kentucky’s existing child labor laws and align them with less restrictive federal laws for 16 and 17-year-olds. Currently, Kentucky law limits the number of hours minors in this age group can work on a school day to six, with an increase to eight hours on non-school days and a total of 30 hours during a school week. In contrast, federal law imposes no daily or weekly hourly limits for this age group. Additionally, Kentucky law prohibits minors aged 16 and 17 from working beyond 11 p.m., while federal law sets no such restrictions.

Pratt, who owns a lawn and landscaping business, argues that his bill will provide teenagers with valuable workplace experience and motivate them to be more productive. Critics, on the other hand, express concerns about the potential risks to the safety of children and their academic progress. They suggest that the legislation might enable teenagers to work unlimited hours while school is in session. Dustin Pugel, a policy director with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, points out that approximately 19,000 Kentucky teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 are not currently attending school. He worries that if the bill passes, it could exacerbate this issue and hinder the state’s progress in graduation rates.

Opponents of the bill also argue that it could loosen hour limits for minors aged 14 and 15, potentially exposing them to hazardous working conditions prohibited by current state law. Democrats on the committee echo these concerns, highlighting that child labor laws are intended to protect at-risk children, not those with stable family support.

Despite the opposition, the bill was passed along party lines and is now awaiting consideration from the full House of Representatives. Pratt asserts that the high school graduation rates in Kentucky are comparable to those in other states that adhere to federal minimum requirements for child labor laws. He believes that experiencing the demands of a job may encourage students to prioritize their education and strive for successful careers.

Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat, has expressed his disagreement with the bill. During a press conference, he emphasized that child labor protections exist for a reason and urged lawmakers to carefully consider the message they send by supporting such legislation. It is worth noting that in recent years, around 10 states have proposed loosening child labor laws, although some bills have been withdrawn or vetoed.

The debate surrounding Kentucky’s child labor laws highlights the ongoing tension between promoting work experience for teenagers and ensuring their safety and academic success. The impact of this legislation on Kentucky’s youth remains to be seen as it moves through the legislative process. However, the discussion raises broader questions about the balancing act between providing opportunities for young workers and maintaining safeguards for their well-being.