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While the state of Maine is well over 1000 miles from Wisconsin, politically they are getting closer and closer. Over the weekend, the Republican governor of the state removed a pro-labor mural from the Department of Labor. Now, the Republican members of the state legislature are creating bills designed to loosen child labor laws.
Bill LD 1346 would allow employers in the state to pay workers under the age of 20 as little as $5.25 an hour for the first 6 months of employment even though minimum wage in Maine is $7.50. The measure would also eliminate the maximum number of hours that a minor over the age of 16 can work on a school day.
While Maine’s unemployment rates are high, like the rest of the country, state Rep. Paul Gilbert (D) wonders why Republicans are pushing to create a pool of cheap labor when so many people are begging for jobs. “If we had a shortage of job applicants or potential workers, then you could look at other populations to ease that strain on the workforce,” Gilbert told The Huffington Post. “But we don’t have that right now. We have an excess of job applicants here in Maine, as well across the country.”
Another bill, LD516, is currently being debated on in the state Senate. This bill would allow 16 and 17 year-old students to work until 11PM on school nights, an hour later than they are currently allowed to work. The measure would also allow students to work 24 hours a week. Currently, students are only able to work 20 hours a week. Senators on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee are split along party lines on the bill, but it’s likely to pass when the full body votes on it–the Senate, like the House, is controlled by Republicans.
In a press release sent out by the Maine House Democratic office earlier in the week, Sen. Troy Jackson, the lead Democrat on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development (LCRED) Committee, said, “While the Governor is distracted by artwork that makes him angry, the Republicans in legislature are rolling back protections for Maine kids.”
Co-sponsor of LD1346 Rep. Bruce Bickford (R) said that the government should stop standing in the way on child labor issues. “This is in no way an attempt to abuse child labor, which some may look at and say, ‘We’ve fought hard for kids and we’ve done this or that,’” he said. “Kids have parents. Let the parents be responsible for the kids. It’s not up to the government to regulate everybody’s life and lifestyle. Take the government away. Let the parents take care of their kids.”
Testifying recently against the proposed change to the law, Maine Children’s Alliance President and CEO Dean Crocker said that with 20 percent of students in the state currently not graduating high school, the state needs to do everything it can to prioritize education: “Letting work once again interfere with the education is not the step we should take.”
LD 1346 was referred to the House LCRED committee on Tuesday, although a schedule to debate the bill has not yet been set. LD 516 is now facing a full vote by the Senate.