Controversial child labor bill advances through Indiana Senate committee

House Bill 1093, which would make changes to state child labor laws, passed out of the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee Wednesday with seven Republicans voting yes and three Democrats voting no.

Current state law prohibits minors between ages 14 and 16 from working past 7 p.m on a school night and past 9 p.m on other nights. This bill would extend those hours so teens could work later and would also ban restrictions on the working hours of 16- to 18-year-olds, including for those doing farm labor. In addition, the bill would remove prohibitions against handling hazardous materials for teen farm laborers.

Author Rep. Kendell Culp, R-Rensselaer, said he wants parents to have more flexibility in accommodating the learning youth do beyond the classroom.

“As teenagers, usually they focus on work generally to make money, but also besides those, there’s a lot of work habits that could be learned from getting to work on time and completing a task,” Culp said.

Lauren Murfree, a policy analyst for the Indiana Community Action Poverty Institute, testified first in opposition to the bill, concerned about harsh working conditions that young workers have experienced.

“I used to be employed by an unscrupulous employer, and I was injured in the job, landing me weeks of prescription medications and physical therapy,” Murfree said. “At 16, I was injured at my workplace, causing sciatic nerve damage, which kept me up all night due to searing hot pain down my back and legs.”

Murfree said before the injury, she needed to balance her restaurant shifts to help maintain her family’s income.

“My age, gender and poverty status of my family all increased my vulnerability in the workplace, a power difference my employer exploited,” she said. “At night, those of us who were minors at my place at work would be told to clock out before cleaning. We all knew if we spoke up, we’d likely be fired or replaced. Experiences like mine are part of the reality that should be shaping the debate about child labor laws in Indiana.”

She added: “Young workers are three times more likely to suffer wage violations than other workers. Most violations in the food service industry are typically due to overworking or hazardous working conditions.”

Cecelia Poynter also opposed the bill.

“Legislators should be protecting our children from exploitation by employers, not making it easier,” she said. “Eliminating the current allowable work hours for children could impact their education and futures.

“This bill has nothing to do with giving 16- and 17-year-olds opportunities and everything to do with giving employers cheap labor that they can exploit.”

Jonathan Bechtle, chief operating officer and general counsel at the Foundation for Government Accountability in Noblesville, testified in support of HB 1093, saying teens can save money and learn valuable life lessons like customer service and interpersonal skills in their jobs. He said his 17-year-old daughter worked at a couple different jobs to earn money to pay for her first car and to save for college.

“Having a summer or part-time job in high school can have long lasting benefits,” he said. “There’s plenty of studies that show that teens who work in high school earn more money in their life than those who don’t.”

Jay Chupp, owner of E & S Sales Bulk Foods in Shipshewana and an Amish father of eight, testified in support of SB 1093, saying he believes it’s essential to his children’s development and life skills.

“I hope that we all agree that having our teenagers sitting at home idle and, even worse yet, glued to their electronics in the palm of their hand is detrimental to their development,” Chupp said.

“I strongly believe now is the time my kids need to be learning the soft skills that’ll be so beneficial now and in their future. I want my kids to learn lifelong skills that will support them in becoming responsible citizens who will contribute to society in a positive way.”

Other states, including Arkansas, Iowa, New Jersey and New Hampshire, have also recently pushed to change child labor laws to increase working hours for teens.

Indiana’s bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

John Asplund is a reporter for, a news site powered by Franklin College journalism students.