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Lawmakers seek to shift youth work permits from schools to state

Steve Carmody
/
Michigan Radio

The Michigan House Labor Committee heard testimony Thursday on a bill to have the state take over responsibility for issuing work permits for minors. That would involve the development of an online database to track children working and the employers that hire them.

Currently, schools oversee work permits for kids under 18, with the state mainly stepping in after complaints come up.

Representative Phil Skaggs (D-East Grand Rapids) said that leaves too much room for young people in potentially harmful work situations to fall through the cracks.

“Sending the work permit process into a modernized, centralized, technologically efficient system makes a lot more sense than keeping it in the 3,000 different high schools that we have and making enforcement and education nearly impossible,” said Skaggs.

Business advocates say the bill could create more bureaucratic challenges and obstacles to children gaining work experience.

The Grand Rapids Chamber, Home Builders Association of Michigan, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, Michigan Retailers Association, Michigan chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, and Small Business Association of Michigan wrote a group memo to the committee.

“Michigan should be working to break down barriers to students seeking valuable work experience and the opportunity to earn money, not adding additional red tape and barriers to entry,” a letter from the group said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Kunse (R-Clare) questioned the need for the change. He argued workplace oversight for adults is generally complaint-driven too.

“If you want to say, 'I know that you’ve employed youth. And I know that because I see their wages, I see their W2 and I know their age,' then we’re going to come and talk to you about that. So, I’m all for targeted education. But we have the information so let’s target it,” Kunse said.

But during committee testimony, representatives from the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity said they currently don’t have enough tools to reliably see which kids are working and where.

Skaggs said he was surprised to see so much pushback.

“It’s shocking that there is members of the business community ... that want to make it easier to exploit children and make it more difficult to enforce the law,” Skaggs said.

Last fall, different legislation he sponsored to toughen penalties for child labor violations made it out of committee and onto the full House floor. It still hasn’t seen a vote.

The bill heard Thursday remains in committee.

Colin Jackson | MPRN
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