LePage set to sign teen labor bill extending work hours

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Gov. Paul LePage is expected to sign a bill that allows 16- and 17-year-olds to work more often and longer hours during the school year.

The bill, LD 516, was enacted by a vote of 21-13 by the Senate this week following a lengthy debate. The vote broke mostly along party lines with Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, joining the Republican majority.

The House earlier this week voted 78-69 to pass the bill, also along party lines.

Republicans said the measure allows students to pay down their bills and save for college while instilling a work ethic.

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Democrats said it puts too much emphasis on work at the expense of school performance and that the legislation doubles as a handout to the restaurant and hospitality lobby.

The legislation increases the maximum number of hours 16- and 17-year-olds can work in a week from 20 to 24 and allows them to work until 10:15 p.m. on a school night.

The bill also increases the number of hours these students can work on a school day from four hours to six.

Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, the bill’s sponsor, has said the proposal is designed to give kids an opportunity to save more money for college or contribute to their families’ finances.

Plowman also argued that allowing teens to work more hours would discourage  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.

Republicans in both chambers argued that working the additional hours in a workweek was optional, not mandatory. Democrats countered that some employers may pressure teens to work the maximum.

Rep. Timothy Driscoll, D-Westbrook, said the bill should have been titled “An act to allow our children to be exploited by the restaurant and hospitality industry.” Driscoll, who serves on the Labor Committee that reviewed the legislation, said the restaurant and hospitality lobbies were the only groups that testified in favor of the legislation.

“I didn’t see any parents there and I didn’t see any kids there, which is good because they were probably in school,” Driscoll said.

During the Senate debate, Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, rejected the argument that the bill would affect classroom performance because students would be up late at night.

Rector said students who play sports and extracurricular activities were also up late.

“I had a call from a young person who was asking for extended hours in relation to this bill,” he said. “They had heard about this because they were helping their single mom pay the bills at home for them and their siblings.”

Labor advocates said the bill dials 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 is 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.

A spokeswoman for LePage said the bill was expected to come to the governor’s desk sometime next week.

smistler@sunjournal.com

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