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Iowa’s Pro-Child Labor Agenda

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Will it surprise you that Iowa’s pro-child labor law is a complete disaster? No, I don’t suppose it will.

Iowa businesses have been openly disregarding federal rules about when and how much children can work, and the federal government has taken notice. Who are the victims?

  1. The exploited children.
  2. The owners and managers who scheduled the exploited children.

If you picked 2, congratulations! You’ve mastered the increasingly popular art of transforming guilt into grievance.

There is more to the story than this quiz reveals: Policymakers and a trade group gave the businesses a big push to start thumbing their nose at regulations on teenagers’ work hours. But even the more nuanced version can be accurately reduced to any of several memes. “Well, well, well, if it isn’t the consequences of my own actions” comes to mind.

The violations can’t be undone, so the path forward involves making the best of the situation. State government, which helped set the confrontation in motion, needs to take the lead on negotiating with the U.S. Department of Labor to reach broad settlements on the penalties for the child labor. With business owners saying fines could put them out of business, it could be appropriate for the state to take responsibility to keep that from happening. Everyone involved needs to follow federal rules. And Iowa’s law will need an update in 2025 so that businesses can’t receive inconsistent directions.

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Both before and after the bill passed, Statehouse Democrats and the Biden administration’s Labor Department said loudly that Iowa was risking trouble by saying teenagers could work later and more often than federal rules allow. In such conflicts, the stricter version controls. Iowa said 14- and 15-year-olds could work until 9 p.m. during the school year and until 11 p.m. in the summer; the real standards are 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

As the Register’s Kevin Baskins reported, Dunker’s Iowa Restaurant Association encouraged members to take advantage of the state law. The Labor Department said it would “continue to monitor Iowa’s implementation of the law to assess potential obstruction of federal child labor protections.” The Labor Department was not kidding.

The Restaurant Association in a June 7 email said regulators were “out in full force across the state. They are taking massive punitive action against Iowa restaurants who are following the new state youth employment hours instead of the federal regulation on hours.” A Subway franchise owner who had not been fined yet told Baskins, “I followed the state law to the letter because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do.”

Dunker, Statehouse Republicans and others have expressed outrage, saying that the Labor Department should have either let Iowa scofflaws slide or taken a softer approach of warnings to businesses instead of fines. None of the objections is availing in the slightest.

Probably the first thing we should understand is that a lot of state legislators have absolutely no idea what they are doing. That is across the political spectrum. A lot of these people are not very bright, are lazy, and on the left are good people at heart but who are in way over their heads. But then you add the fact that modern Republican legislator is committed to evil and fascism and you create a legislative and legal disaster like this. Of course, Iowa is never going to vote for Democrats statewide again, so it’s not like this will lead to a political backlash.

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