AUGUSTA, Maine — The Senate will soon vote on an amended bill that would loosen restrictions within the state’s child labor law.
The amended proposal emerged from the Legislature’s labor committee last week via a 7-6 vote along party lines. Republicans supported the measure, which would allow minors to work longer hours and more often during weeks when school is in session.
The bill is opposed by worker advocates who argue increasing the work hours could adversely impact student achievement.
Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, the bill’s sponsor, said the proposal is designed to give kids an opportunity to save more money for college or contribute to their family’s finances.
Plowman also believes the bill would curb minors from working multiple jobs to skirt the state’s current law, which prevents 16- and 17-year olds from working more than 20 hours in one week for a single employer.
Current law also prohibits high-school age workers from working past 10 p.m. on a school night.
Plowman originally proposed allowing kids to work up to 32 hours a week and as late as 11 p.m. on a school night. Gov. Paul LePage backed the bill.
However, some panelists believe the original bill went too far toward undoing the state’s update to the child labor laws passed in 1991.
The amended version increases the current work week to 24 hours, an additional four hours from current law. It also allows students to work until 11 p.m.
Plowman worried Monday that Republican panelists trying to reach a compromise with Democrats may have “given up too much.” She said that an amended version of the bill appeared to be on its way to a unanimous vote, but that Democrats withdrew their support after breaking from caucus.
“It was sort of a Charlie Brown-Lucy move,” she said.
Plowman said she was confident the bill would fare well in the Senate where Republicans have a six-seat edge over Democrats. The GOP majority in the House is five seats, but a significant block in the Republican caucus has twice spurned leadership to vote with Democrats.
“I think we have a pretty good vote in the House unless it comes down to some big party push and I’m little afraid of what will happen,” Plowman said. “It somehow became a party-line bill, which is unfortunate.”
Groups representing restaurants and hotels support Plowman’s bill.
Opponents say the proposal would dial back child-labor protections enacted in 1991 to prevent employers from pressuring minors into working longer hours. They also worried the proposal would shift emphasis from education and school-sponsored, extracurricular activities.
Industry groups, including the Maine Restaurant Association, have argued that Maine’s law was too strict compared to child labor laws in other New England states. For example, Vermont law aligns with federal law for 16- and 17-year olds and imposes no work limits during the school year.
The Maine Women’s Lobby, however, says increasing work limits runs the risk of increasing high school dropout rates. The group is also concerned that allowing children to work until 11 p.m. could also impact student achievement.