Senate Committee advances House plan to lower working age

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “They’re (parents) still going to have to verify that kids are in school, so there’s still going to be some interaction with the school system. But this gives much more power to the parents to give consent, or not.”

That’s what Counsel Mindy Parsley told the Senate Workforce Committee on Friday, regarding the House of Delegates’ plan to eliminate the requirement of children 14-years and older to obtain a work permit from their County School Superintendent. 

Introduced by Del. Michael Hite, R-Berkeley, if enacted, HB 5159, would reduce the state’s working age from 16 to 14-years-old, as well as to make parents to sole arbiters of a child’s legal ability to seek employment. Those children would, however, be required to obtain an age certification from the Division of Labor confirming that they are at least 14-years-old. HB 5159 passed the House of Delegates on Feb. 20 by a vote of 83 to 16.

“What are we doing here with this?” Asked Del. Elliott Pritt, R-Fayette, during debate on the House floor. “I have students in eighth grade that are 14-years-old. What about the parents who give students of that age permission?”

Pritt was one of the 16 House members to vote against the bill.

While explaining the bill to Workforce Committee members, Parsley said, “The original bill and the committee substitute that came from the House lowers the permissible age at which a child may be employed from 16 to 14.”

“It eliminates work permits,” Parsley continued. “The bill shifts issuance of age certificates from the State Superintendent of Schools to the State Commissioner of Labor, and requires the commissioner to review the birth certificate of the applicant before issuing.”

Parsley further explained that the State Commissioner of Labor will have the authority to revoke an age certificate if it were issued “illegally or improperly.” The bill also mirrors federal child labor law with regard to the types of work a child is permitted to do and the hours in which they are permitted to work.

“If you’re 14 or 15-years-old, and you want to get a job working on a logging crew down on the border of Wyoming and Boone Counties, can you do that under this bill?” Sen. David Stover, R-Wyoming, asked at the conclusion of Parsley’s explanation. 

“No,” Parsley replied.“This bill does not affect the code sections that relate to hard labor or dangerous labor jobs. Those protections are still in place. This is much more related to the 14 or 15-year-old who wants to scoop ice cream at Ellen’s over the summer, or who wants to get a summer job or an after school job. This bill does not touch any of the serious labor jobs.”

Parsley further explained that the specific intent of the bill is to shift the decision making authority away from the school system, and give it to the parents. 

“They’re (parents) still going to have to verify that kids are in school, so there’s still going to be some interaction with the school system,” Parsley added. “But this gives much more power to the parents to give consent, or not.”

As a follow-up, Stover asked, “If they’re working, and their grades drop down from a B to a D, that’s still up to the parents to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to have to make you quit?’”

“Absolutely,” Parsley said. “It’s still up to parents to decide whether their child working is a good idea.”

An amendment to the bill proposed by Sen. Glenn Jeffries, R-Putnam, sought to require that a copy of every age certification issued by the Division of Labor be kept on file with the State Department of Education. 

“I understand the intent of the bill, and I think the intent of the bill is good,” Jeffries explained. “[But] I believe there are certain areas of the state that we have to monitor a child that may have been granted the application from the commission.”

In an effort to add clarity to Jeffries’ amendment, Committee Chair Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, said, “I think the idea is that if there are any red flags, that the county superintendent or anyone in the schools, that they can – they at least have another possibility to avoid problems.”

Jeffries amendment, which was adopted by the committee, does not grant revocation authority to the State Department of Education. 

With no further questions or discussion, HB 5159 was approved by the Workforce Committee, and will now be referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary for additional consideration. RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of HB 5159 as additional information becomes available. 

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