The Iowa Legislature wins the next Golden Fleece Award for passing a law that re-establishes child labor. Even that thought is abhorrent, let alone the reality. I realize that U.S. republicans want to take us back to their conservative vision of what the U.S. used to be, but changing the State law to allow children to work seems somewhat regressive, even for them. It conjures up images of Charles Dickens workhouses where child labor was rampant……but, in Iowa in 2023, the mind boggles.     

     The Iowa Legislators obviously knew there would be an outcry so they went into session very early on a Tuesday morning, taking up debate on a bill specifically related to youth employment. The session opened at 3:36 a.m. and the vote on SF 542 in the Iowa Senate happened at 4:52 a.m. It passed by a margin of 32 to 17. All Democrats voted against it, as well as two Republicans, Sens. Charlie McClintock, R-Alburnett, and Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, who broke with their colleagues to join every Democrat in opposition.

     The bill allows 14-year-olds to work six-hour night shifts, allows 15-year-olds to work in plants on assembly lines moving items up to 50 pounds, and allows 16 and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol. The 32 republicans who voted for the bill should be, in the traditional-and-current all American way, be taken out of the capitol building and shot.

     The bill’s Republican supporters said it will modernize Iowa’s laws and teach children valuable skills through workforce training programs. You have got to be kidding!

     “While the responsibility of having a job might be more valuable than having a pay check, the reward of the pay check will allow these youth who want to have a job to possibly save for a car, maybe buy a prom dress, go to a summer camp, take a date out for the weekend,” said Sen. Adrian Dickey, R-Packwood, the bill’s floor manager. Again, you have got to be kidding. You need to introduce Elizabethan child labor practices so they can buy prom dresses. This man should definitely be put out of his misery…..and yesterday.  

     The Democrats aren’t much better. They argued the bill will increase the risk of workplace accidents by exposing inexperienced kids to more dangerous work environments. They tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to offer additional workers’ compensation benefits for teenagers who get injured on the job. What happened to total public outrage, press briefings, TV spots and protests to kill this abomination of a law? Where are their guts and integrity? I’m horrified. Is this the true heart of America? If it is, the country deserves to decline and disappear.

     If that’s not enough to deserve a Golden Fleece Award, it gets worse!

     A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll from March found 50% favored the proposal, while 42% opposed it and 8% were unsure. The law would also create a committee to study the possibility of letting teens 14 and older get a special driver’s permit to drive to work. An earlier version of the bill would have simply authorized the new type of permits for all teens! And the bill says that teens who are injured on the job can seek benefits under the state’s workers’ compensation program. The initial version did not include those protections for minors who could be hurt on the job. Are they totally mad? Perhaps criminally naïve would be a better description.

     Governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican, spoke favorably about the law earlier this month. She pointed to her own experience babysitting, waiting tables and working when she was young.”That’s good experience,” she told reporters April 4. “You know, it teaches the kids a lot and if they have the time to do it and they want to earn some additional money I don’t think we should discourage that.” As I said, criminally naïve and, perhaps, she deserves a Golden Fleece Award all on her own.

     The republicans did add an amendment, at the last minute, banning teenagers from working in strip clubs………but that was an amendment. They were allowed to work in strip clubs in the original bill.

     Has the U.S. totally lost its way?

     A comment from the U.S. Department of Labor’s top lawyer, Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda hints at the extent of this child labor fiasco. She criticized bills like those in Iowaand other states, saying it was “irresponsible for states to consider loosening child labor protections.”

     “AND OTHER STATES”. There are more than just Iowa? God help us, and that’s definitely not a religious statement!

     I can’t think of a better candidate for a Golden Fleece Award than this atrocity, maybe a Class A Golden Fleece Award!

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