Indiana senator backs off repealing state child labor laws

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana legislator has backed off his attempt to repeal the state’s child labor laws after conflict of interest concerns were raised because his family employs hundreds of minors at a ski resort.

Republican Sen. Chip Perfect’s bill would have eliminated work permit requirements for minors and removed restrictions on the number of hours that 16- and 17-year-olds can work. The Senate labor committee approved his request Wednesday to strip those provisions from the bill and seek a special committee to study the topic later this year.

Perfect, who is president and CEO of Perfect North Slopes near Lawrenceburg, said the southeastern Indiana resort employees 300 to 400 minors. Perfect’s move follows an Indianapolis Star report about a watchdog group saying his business interests should trigger extra scrutiny and that the ski resort’s human resources director testified in favor of the bill last week.

Perfect said Wednesday that the Senate Ethics Committee this week cleared his bill sponsorship and that he was simply using his business background to address what he believed is a burdensome system for young workers and employers. He said he didn’t do anything questionable.

“I really failed to consider the new normal that you’re now guilty until proven innocent,” Perfect said. “I apologize to the committee for the distraction that my involvement in this has caused.”

Indiana’s current law requires most people younger than 18 years to obtain a work permit from their school and generally limits 16- and 17-year-olds to working no more than 30 hours during a school week or past 10 p.m. the night before a school day. Supporters of repealing the state law point out federal child labor laws, such as minimum wage and limiting work hours for those younger than 16, would still apply.

Sally Sloan, executive director of Indiana’s branch of the American Federation of Teachers, told the committee that repealing the state law would hurt efforts to build an educated and skilled workforce.

“It appears that the goal is to create, perhaps, a cheap and unregulated workforce populated by teens,” Sloan said.

The Indiana Senate’s ethics rules say members should consider “whether the legislation would have a unique, direct, and material effect on the nonlegislative income of the Senator” before voting on a bill.

“That’s just the nature of this part-time Legislature,” Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray told the Star . “People have experiences and they come from different backgrounds.”

Other Republican committee members defended Perfect’s sponsorship of the proposed repeal.

Perfect said he hoped a review panel will study what he calls unnecessary labor rules before the 2020 legislative session.

“They will all figure out what I’ve known for a long time — this is an impediment to Indiana moving forward,” he said.

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