Oklahoma Watch
Oct. 30, 2023
Democracy Watch

Lawmakers Examine Oklahoma Child Labor Laws

State Rep. Judd Strom, R-Copan, hosts an interim study examining Oklahoma’s child labor laws on Oct. 24, 2023 (Keaton Ross/Oklahoma Watch)

By Keaton Ross | Democracy/Criminal Justice Reporter

Looking to help businesses struggling to hire workers, several Republican-led states have chipped away at their child labor laws this year. 

As of July 1, 14 and 15-year-olds in Iowa may work until 9 p.m. during the school year and 11 p.m. during the summer, two hours later than allowed under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Arkansas no longer requires teenagers under 16 to obtain a work permit. 

Could Oklahoma be the next state to turn to teenagers to fill labor shortages? Lawmakers examined the issue during an interim study at the State Capitol on Tuesday afternoon. 

Speakers arrived at a quick consensus: Allowing minors to work more hours at younger ages jeopardizes safety and causes educational attainment to suffer. 

“We must not let these kinds of bills slip under the radar,” Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn told lawmakers, adding that a handful of special interest groups are driving the movement to soften child labor laws. “At the end of our time today we will agree that children are not the pathway to filling our workplace shortages.”

Osborn said the state could boost its workforce participation rate by targeting groups like women of childbearing age, the formerly incarcerated and the disabled. 

Joe Dorman, CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy and the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2014, said working children who drop out are more likely to remain in poverty than those who remain in school. He said working dropouts are also much less likely to attend college. 

“If we’re looking for that investment far into the future, we need to encourage these kids to stay in school,” Dorman said. 

There are also concerns about the legality of the measures passed in Arkansas and Iowa. Kathy Neal, a labor attorney with McAfee and Taft, said it’s likely state laws that conflict with the FLSA will be challenged in court and ruled unconstitutional. 

Aiming to make Oklahoma an attractive option for businesses and employees, lawmakers prioritized workforce development measures during the 2023 legislative session. Senate Bill 621 created the Oklahoma Workforce Commission, a nine-member board appointed by the governor and legislative leaders tasked with coordinating and funding programs to train skilled workers. 

I plan to follow up on this issue when the Legislature convenes in early February. Have story ideas, tips or suggestions? Let me know at Kross@Oklahomawatch.org.

What I’m Reading This Week:

  • A Phantom Attack Ad Group Surfaces Again in an Oklahoma Election: The phantom group, Common Sense Conservatives LLC, resurfaced in the special election for state Senate District 32 near Lawton, this fall, where it spent money on a direct mail advertisement against conservative Baptist minister Dusty Deevers in the Republican primary. [The Frontier]
  • OK Supreme Court Declines Request to Fire Kingfisher Football Coach: Eight of the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s nine justices declined Monday to consider a request that the high court compel Kingfisher Public Schools to fire its controversial football coach who was recently charged with child neglect. [NonDoc]
  • Domestic violence shelter operators call on Oklahoma lawmakers to increase funding: Oklahoma ranks highest in the nation for domestic violence rates and second in the number of women killed by men. According to the most recent report from the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board, 118 people were killed as the result of domestic violence in 2021. [Oklahoma Voice]

The Top Story

The chairman of the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center Trust Rick Stiles speaks during a public meeting on Aug. 23, 2023. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

Pottawatomie Jail Investigator Promoted Amid Cover-Up Allegations

The trust voted unanimously to promote Capt. Bobby Thompson to Major, and approved a .50 per hour raise and $7,500 bonus. The praise follows a September investigation by Oklahoma Watch that revealed Pottawatomie County jail officials concealed information about the deaths of seven detainees who arrived at the jail in need of medical or mental health care. [Read More]

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