Teenagers would be allowed to work longer hours and in a wider array of jobs under a bill that’s cleared an Iowa Senate subcommittee.

Brad Epperly, a lobbyist for the Iowa Grocer Industry Association, said key parts of the bill would let 14 and 15 year olds with a driver’s permit drive to and from a job and all kids of high school age could work later at night.

“Everybody has a worker need right now,” Epperly said during a senate subcommittee hearing today. “I think the latest statistics are young people from 16-24, the job participation rate is like 56%. It’s awful low.”

Seventeen year olds, with some exceptions, could work at any time if the bill becomes law. The work hour limitations for other teens would be adjusted, too. Jessica Dunker is president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association and the Iowa Hotel and Lodging Association. She told lawmakers current law discriminates against kids who want to drive themselves to work.

“Privileged children who can afford to be in show choir and can be on the football team and can go to the prom and can go to the games they get to drive there as long as they’re on a path directly to and from the school and yet kids who want to work at Culver’s or anywhere else are not afforded the same privilege,” Dunker said. “And that is an equity issue that I hope, no matter what, you will take care of.”

Expanding work hours for teenagers is also a priority for the hospitality industry. Dunker said South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota have already extended the hours students can work.

“Nine o’clock for a 15 year old sophomore in high school, you know, I’m sure they’re doing something already and probably it’s a school opportunity,” she siad, “but if it isn’t, having kids get the opportunity to work is important.”

Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, said children shouldn’t be asked to solve the state’s workforce shortage. “Do you remember the images of children in manufacturing and other dangerous work situations from the early 1900s?” Ryan asked lawmakers. “There is a reason our society said that it is not appropriate for children to work in those conditions.”

The bill would let teenagers do light assembly work in manufacturing plants and give state officials authority to issue waivers so teens could work in other industries. Ryan suggested it will be children from minority and immigrant households who wind up getting hurt. “It will impact the ability of children to do well in school by the impact of longer days and nights outside of school,” Ryan said.

Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, said kids should not work in manufacturing. “Iowa’s law for children at work exists for a reason,” Dotzler said. “I’m OK with updating parts of the law so its fits with today’s world, but we’ve got to be careful about what we’re doing for children.”

Senator Adrian Dickey, a Republican from Packwood, said some restrictions on teen workers do not make sense. “As an employer, I can tell you for many, many years how many times I’ve had youth coming in and wanting to apply for jobs and some of the restrictions and tne hours makes it very difficult,” Dickey said.

Dickey and another Republican senator have forwarded the bill to the Senate Workforce Committee for consideration.

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