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Youth employment bill may violate federal labor law, US Department of Labor says

In a letter to legislators, the department said if a job isn't listed in the Fair Labor Standards Act, then it can't be performed by 14 and 15-year-olds.

DES MOINES, Iowa — A bill expanding youth employment in Iowa may violate federal labor laws, according to a letter from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Senate File 542 passed both the Iowa House and Senate during this past legislative session, and is now waiting for Gov. Kim Reynolds' signature to become law. 

It's designed to let some teenagers work in restricted industries, like manufacturing, as long as it's part of a work-based learning program. 

However, in a letter to Democratic leaders, the U.S. Department of Labor said that if a job isn't specifically listed in federal child labor regulations, then it can't be performed by 14 and 15-year-olds. 

The Department of Labor said violating child labor regulations in this way would be considered "oppressive child labor." 

"The Department will continue to closely monitor the status of child labor laws in Iowa and their potential ramifications for federal child labor law enforcement," the letter reads in part.

The letter also indicates that the department is investigating incidents of child labor in Iowa, saying, "The Department currently has over 600 child labor investigations underway nationwide, including in Iowa, and continues to field complaints and initiate investigations to protect children under the federal child labor laws."

The response from the Department of Labor comes two months after seven Democratic legislators asked the department for it's opinion on the legality of the bill. 

Democrats in the Iowa legislature reacted to the Department of Labor's response in a press release, calling on Reynolds to take action. 

“Now it’s been confirmed: SF 542 violates federal law," Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, said in the release. "Gov. Reynolds needs to veto this dangerous, unlawful bill to protect Iowa kids and ensure legal clarity for Iowa employers."

In a statement to Local 5, Sen. Adrian Dickey, R-Packwood, stood by the legislation, saying it's common for states to have youth employment laws that don't match federal standards and the Department of Labor "has never made an issue of it." 

"Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, this bill is a common sense update to Iowa’s youth employment laws," Dickey said in part. "It responsibly expands opportunities for Iowa youth."

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