NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: State senator pulls back child labor repeal bill that might have benefited his company

An Indiana legislator proposed a bill to repeal Indiana’s child labor laws, then backed out on his proposal Wednesday after news stories in the Indianapolis Star and Washington Post revealed the business he owns could benefit from the legislation.

First, we think it was wise of him to withdraw his bill due to what we perceive as an obvious conflict of interest. Second, we question the wisdom of eliminating a law that might enable businesses to require minors to work excessively long hours.

Indiana’s current law requires most people younger than 18 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.

The bill introduced by Sen. Chip Perfect (R-43rd) 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 to seek a special committee to study the topic later this year.

However, Perfect is president and CEO of a southeastern Indiana ski resort near Lawrenceburg, which employs between 300 and 400 minors. The Star reported that a political watchdog group, Common Cause Indiana, said Perfect’s business interests means his involvement in the bill should be scrutinized.

To his credit, Perfect said in a statement that he had requested the Senate Ethics Committee to rule on whether a conflict of interest exists, and he said the committee members found it doesn’t. He said, according to the Post, that he also consulted with the former chairman of the committee prior to sponsoring the bill “and was told there was no conflict of interest.”

Republican State Sen. Liz Brown of Fort Wayne, current chair of the ethics committee, told the newspaper that ethics hearings are confidential, and she would not comment.

The AP reported that Sally Sloan, executive director of Indiana’s branch of the American Federation of Teachers, told the committee, “It appears that the goal is to create, perhaps, a cheap and unregulated workforce populated by teens.”

The Post reported the concerns of Purdue Fort Wayne philosophy professor Abe Schwab, an ethics expert, who posed the question, “Does their business interest undermine their ability to fulfill their responsibility to their constituents? Their judgment isn’t supposed to be one that represents themselves. … If they sponsor legislation that clearly favors themselves, then there’s reason to worry that their judgment has been compromised.”

While the U.S. Department of Labor enforces federal child labor laws and oversees working minors, individual states also set child labor laws within their own borders. Such laws are intended to provide protection and safe working conditions for minors and to ensure they have the time, energy and opportunity to receive proper educations.

Perfect and other supporters of the bill he has now pulled back say current law is outdated, difficult to navigate and is an administrative burden on the school system, on the parents, the students and businesses. Perfect told AP he would like a review panel to study what he calls unnecessary labor rules before the 2020 legislative session.

But child labor laws were instituted for good reasons, and we encourage our state legislators to keep those reasons ahead of business interests.