Bill to create more work opportunities for Maine children rejected in House vote

Posted March 19, 2014, at 1:19 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A LePage administration bill that would have allowed children younger than 16 years old to work in bowling alleys or movie theaters failed Wednesday in the House of Representatives.

The bill was rejected Wednesday with an 85-58 mostly party-line vote. All of the House Republicans and four Democrats voted in favor of the bill.

In addition to providing those employment opportunities for Maine youths — and bringing Maine into conformity with federal law and regulations in the majority of the states — LD 1698 would have made adjustments to the process for children obtaining a work permit, making the Department of Labor the first step in the process. Currently, that process starts with the minor’s local school superintendent, who certifies that the applicant is in academically good standing and is not habitually truant.

Under the Maine Department of Labor’s proposal that failed Wednesday, school superintendents would still have to sign off on the work permit in most cases, though the Department of Labor would have the authority to grant work permits without the superintendent’s input when school is not in session.

The bill mirrors some of the goals of Gov. Paul LePage, who has long argued in favor of making it easier for youth to work, including lowering the legal employment age in Maine as low as 12 years old. Since taking office, the LePage administration has proposed, unsuccessfully, bills to create a children’s “training wage”of $5.25 per hour and other measures to reduce barriers to children working, including an effort to alter the work permit process last year.

Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, said the bill debated Wednesday was a solution searching for a problem to solve.

“There’s no need to change or weaken child labor laws,” said Gilbert. “I worked as a job service manager for 22 years and the issue that’s being brought up in this bill has never been brought to my attention nor to the attention of the counselors and employment specialists who worked for me.”

Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom, was one of the lawmakers who argued Wednesday during House debate that the bill was exploitive.

“Even though the title of this bill is An Act to Streamline the Work Permitting Process for Minors, this is a child labor liberalization law not to benefit children but to allow for their exploitation,” said Jones. “This is a formal opportunity for employers to exploit children without the superintendent’s verification that they are indeed achieving educationally.”

Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, rejected that notion.

“This is a very simple bill; I really don’t understand the opposition to this bill at all,” said Volk. “Superintendents will still be contacted.”

Volk and others argued that the bill would expedite the work permit process and avoid students missing weeks of work during the summer while awaiting work permits.

The bill now heads to the Senate for more votes.

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