The Republican-led Iowa Senate passed a controversial bill this week that would allow teens in the state to work longer hours and in jobs that are currently prohibited.
The bill, which comes amid a labor shortage, passed the chamber Tuesday by a 32–17 vote. It would still need to be approved by the GOP-controlled House before it could go to Gov. Kim Reynolds desk for final authorization.
If passed into law, it would allow teens as young as 14 to work up to six hours per day and in currently outlawed occupations, like meat processing, truck loading, and operating heavy machinery. It would also allow some to serve alcohol — with parental permission.
Additionally, the bill would allow some under the age of 16 to obtain a special permit to drive themselves to work.
The bill's Republican supporters say it would modernize Iowa's laws and give kids more opportunities to work and get paid, all while learning valuable life skills. Opponents of the bill, largely Democrats, called it harmful to children.
"Ultimately, parents and kids will decide if they want to work or not," Gov. Kim Reynolds has said of the bill. "It teaches the kids a lot. And if they have the time to do it and they want to earn some additional money, I don't think we should discourage that."
The Des Moines Register reported that the bill has sparked protests in the state from labor activists and even drawn criticism from the U.S. Labor Department's top lawyer.
"It is irresponsible for states to consider loosening child labor protections," said Seema Nanda, Solicitor of Labor. "Federal and state entities should be working together to increase accountability and ramp up enforcement — not make it easier to illegally hire children to do what are often dangerous jobs."
Nonetheless, a recent poll by the Des Moines Register and Mediacom found that half of Iowans support the bill, while just 42% oppose it.
Illegal employment of children in the U.S. has been increasing since 2018. In the last fiscal year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it found that 835 companies employed more than 3,800 children, including one sanitation company that had more than 100 kids working overnight cleaning shifts.