March 29, 2023

REGRESSION: Gov. Huckabee Sanders set to eliminate need for child labor permits in Arkansas

REGRESSION: Arkansas Gov. Huckabee Sanders set to eliminate need for child labor permits

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Arkansas House Bill 1410 — the Youth Hiring Act — has arrived on the desk of Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Little Rock this week.

The bill would revise an existing law that requires an employment certificate “accessible to the Division of Labor and the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, or local school officials” before a company can hire a child under 16 years of age to allow children as young as nine years old to work.

If Governor Sanders signs the bill — as she has indicated she would – it would effectively erase decades of progress in protecting young workers from exploitation by rapacious corporations.

Under the current laws, children under the age of 14 are prohibited from working in most industries, with exceptions for things like newspaper delivery or farm work.

For children aged 14 and 15, there are strict limitations on the number of hours they can work and the types of jobs they can perform.

These laws are in place for a reason: young children are not yet fully developed physically or mentally, and they require protection from exploitation and unsafe working conditions.

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Arkansas Republicans, including Governor Sanders, rather than expressing concern for the welfare of the children who would be affected by the change in the law, are focusing on the inconvenience parents may have in being forced to apply for an employment certificate.

“The governor believes protecting kids is most important, but doing so with arbitrary burdens on parents to get permission from the government for their child to get a job is burdensome and obsolete,” Alexa Henning, a spokesperson for the governor, said. “All child labor laws will still apply and we expect businesses to comply just as they are required to do now.”

The result will nominally “restore decision-making to parents concerning their children,” as the bill reads, however, Arkansas Democrats all voted against it.

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“Parents have to sign off [on the permit] under the current law,” said Rep. Andrew Collins (D-Little Rock). “If this passes, the parents won’t have to sign off, and I think that’s a pretty important distinction.”

Democrats have concerns about the type of child exploitation that was recently uncovered by the federal Department of Labor.

13 Packers Sanitation Services plants in eight states, including Arkansas, were found to be employing children as young as 13, where they were working in hazardous conditions.

The company was fined $1.5 million in civil penalties for its violation of the existing child labor laws.

Laura Kellams, a director with the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, testified against the bill in the state legislature, saying that it was irresponsible to eliminate work permits that cost nothing and are generally processed within a few days of filing.

This is not red tape, so who is it a burden to?” Kellams said. “It’s a burden to companies who are illegally hiring minors beyond the allowable hours and in conditions that aren’t allowed.”

Governor Sanders and her band of business-friendly Republican lawmakers can pay lip service to protecting children all they want.

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But if this bill passes, Arkansas children will not be safer nor more “free.” They will simply be more vulnerable to exploitation.

Perhaps the best argument against the measure comes from one of the only Republicans to vote against it.

“This permit is just one more little safeguard that maybe we should leave in place,” Johnson said. “I encourage 14- and 15-year-olds to have initiative and seek employment. I certainly think the parents need to know about it … I’m just extra careful when I’m dealing with children, so I’m going to be voting against [the bill],” said Sen. Mark Johnson (R-Ferndale).

Let’s hope that Governor Sanders sees the light and changes her mind about signing this dangerous attack on the future of children in Arkansas

Original reporting by Tess Vrbin at The Arkansas Advocate.

Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.  

Vinnie Longobardo

is the Managing Editor of Washington Press and a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile, & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.

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