A bill in the Missouri Senate would relax child labor laws, and no longer require schools to sign off on a child's work permit to seek employment.
Chairman of the Education and Workforce Development Committee, Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis County, said the bill would make it easier for minors to obtain a job.
"This is dealing with youth work permits. Right now, for a child to work -- a 16-year-old -- they have to have a work permit. A school district has to sign off on it, this just removes that language," Koenig said.
Senate Bill 175, which would "modify provisions relating to youth employment," would prohibit employers from requiring a work permit for children to be employed at their business. The bill was voted "do pass" by the committee and all of the witnesses who testified were in favor. A similar bill was heard and passed out of the Small Business and Industry Committee in the 2022 legislative session.
The bill would not allow students' employment to take the place of education, nor would it allow work to be an excuse for absence from school.
"I think for teenagers to work, it teaches them a lot that they need in life," Koenig said. "When I was 14 or 15 years old, I had several lawns that I would cut. It helped teach me the work ethic I had today to be successful, so I definitely think that's important for teenagers to get that work experience. ... Also, I think it's an unnecessary burden on schools to have to go through that process."
James Harris, from the Opportunity Solutions Project, said this bill would remove a barrier for kids to work.
"My first job was bussing tables, and I learned a lot ... by interacting with people and problem-solving," Harris said.
Koenig noted that, under existing laws, there is not a penalty for a child who fails to obtain a work permit, nor is there a penalty for employers who fail to ask for one.
Dr. Mary Byrne testified in favor of the bill, citing the need for limited government.
"It is in alignment with the philosophy of limited government. I agree with (Sen. Doug Beck), that we probably need the employer to be held accountable for getting the parent's signature and have them be responsible for hiring minors and legally, if they violate that, but we need to get government and goverment agencies out of our lives," Byrne said.
Koenig stipulated that much of the bill was dedicated to rules and regulations regarding children who would be employed in the entertainment industry, but that it relaxed laws across all sectors in Missouri.
Beck, a St. Louis County Republican, noted Missouri does not have an entertainment industry.