Mass. Proposal Seeks To Reduce Hours Teenagers Can Work

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Concerned that too many students are lacking in sleep and homework time, Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger has asked lawmakers to cut down on the hours teenagers can spend on the job during the school year.

The attorney general's proposals to revise the state's 50-year-old child labor laws include allowing teenagers 17 and under to work no more than four hours each school day and 28 hours each week. Under the current law, teenagers are allowed to work up to nine hours a day and 48 hours a week while school is in session.

If the provision passes, Massachusetts will join a few other states, including New York, Wisconsin, and Washington, that limit the number of hours teenagers can work. The U.S. Department of Labor prohibits 14 and 15-year olds from working before 7 a.m. and after 7 p.m., but sets no limits on the number of hours older teens can work.

"The child labor laws of this commonwealth no longer serve anyone's best interests: not children, not parents, not educators, not employers," Mr. Harshbarger said at a news conference late last month.

The bill is not without its detractors. Critics, including a few state lawmakers, working students, and many of the retailers who employ them, say the bill is overly intrusive and would punish teenagers working to save for college or to support their families.

Adult Supervision Sought

In the same bill, Mr. Harshbarger--who is expected to run against U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II for the Democratic nomination for governor next year--is also asking legislators to bar teenagers 17 and younger from working after 8 p.m. without direct adult supervision and to allow school officials to revoke previously issued work permits of teens whose jobs were hurting their school performance. Currently, school officials do not have the power to revoke work permits.

Mr. Harshbarger also wants lawmakers to authorize the attorney general to issue a warning or citation requiring payment of up to $5,000 for each labor-law violation.

A task force Mr. Harshbarger assembled to study child labor drafted the proposals. The bill is pending before the legislature's joint committee on commerce and labor.

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