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Committee OKs eliminating child work permits in Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Capitol

MADISON — Wisconsin’s 16- and 17-year-olds would no longer need parental consent to work under a Republican bill that the Legislature’s finance committee approved Monday.

Wisconsin law requires minors to get work permits. A child must pay $10 and provide a parent’s written consent to obtain a permit. The bill would eliminate the permit requirement for 16- and 17-year-olds, erasing the need for parental consent.

The proposal makes no changes to state labor laws governing how many hours or time of day children can work. Democrats on the finance committee still balked at the bill, saying it cuts parents out of the loop by allowing children to get jobs on their own. That could lead to children getting caught up in human trafficking, Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, warned.

“I’m just baffled as to why we wouldn’t protect our young people,” Taylor said. “Every employer won’t do it right.”

Republicans countered that the bill removes a layer of bureaucracy and would help children who don’t have parents find jobs and the stable networks that go with employment. They stressed the bill wouldn’t change any other child labor laws.

“This isn’t a tattoo. It’s a job,” the bill’s author, Rep. Amy Loudenbeck of Clinton, told the committee. Loudenbeck sits on the panel.

Democrats also complained that a Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis shows state and local governments would lose $730,000 in revenue by doing away with permits for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Local governments collect $2.50 from each permit fee. The state uses the remaining money to fund six positions in the Department of Workforce Development that enforce child labor laws.

Loudenbeck noted the analysis said the enforcement fund will start the next biennium with a $608,000 balance and finish $31,700 in the black even in the face of the lost revenue. If department officials need more money in the 2019-21 state budget, they can ask for it, she said.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, still shook his head.

“I have no idea why we’re doing this. None,” he said. “We’re taking a sledgehammer to state law to address some (kids’) situations.”

The committee ultimately approved the bill on a 12-4 party-line vote. The committee’s approval clears the way for votes in the full Assembly and Senate.