Mar 7, 2023 - Politics

Ohio may loosen its child labor laws

Illustration of the Ohio State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Statehouse Democrats and Republicans usually don't agree on much, but they've found common ground in Ohio children as young as 14 working longer hours during the school year.

Why it matters: The proposal to loosen Ohio's youth employment standards is being considered amid a rise in child labor violations across the U.S.

State of play: Such labor laws are meant to protect young Ohioans' health and academic development by restricting them from certain jobs and limiting their work hours.

  • Current state law prevents 14- and 15-year-olds from working after 9pm during the summer and after 7pm when school is in session.
  • A proposed law from state Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) seeks to remove that 7pm cap with approval from a parent or legal guardian.

Flashback: The Ohio Senate unanimously supported a previous legislative effort to make this change, which counted former state Sen. Tina Maharath (D-Columbus) as a co-sponsor.

  • But that bill did not reach the governor's desk before the 2021-22 legislative term ended, leading Schaffer to try again.

Separately, Schaffer introduced a resolution urging Congress to alter a similar federal prohibition on night work for those under 16.

  • This change would eliminate any conflict between state and federal law were his bill to be enacted, he told colleagues in a committee hearing.

What they're saying: Schaffer views the adjustment as necessary to help businesses find "adequate staffing," while fellow state Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem) thinks longer work hours support Ohio's "leaders of the future."

  • "These are very independent children that want to become adults," Rulli, also the director of operations for a family-owned grocery chain, told colleagues.
  • "I think they understand by working 10 or 15 hours a week, and getting that paycheck and that gratification, that they have self worth."

Between the lines: Other business interests have testified in support, including the Ohio Restaurant Association, the National Federation of Independent Business and the Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce.

The other side: Research shows that strenuous work schedules can jeopardize children's health and stunt their development, Axios' Nathan Bomey reports.

What's next: A Senate committee of four Republicans and one Democrat advanced the bill, sending it to the full chamber.

  • It needs approval there and in the Ohio House of Representatives ā€” along with Gov. Mike DeWine's signature ā€” to become law.
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