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Two Dystopian Bills in State Legislatures

In 1938, under pressure from unions and voters, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which put into place laws prohibiting child labor. A new bill proposed in the Iowa Senate is aiming to roll back child labor restrictions and allow children to work longer hours in dangerous jobs. 

The proposed bill, Senate File 167, would allow children as young as 14 to work in potentially hazardous environments. It would allow children to work some jobs in the meatpacking industry, known for health risks to workers, without a permit. It would also let children get around an existing law that includes a list of jobs currently banned for people under 18 if they are “participating in work-based learning or a school or employer-administered, work-related program.” This loophole would allow children to work an array of dangerous jobs, including, mining, roofing, demolition, and a number of others including operating the ominously named “guillotine shears.” If the jobs themselves weren’t dangerous enough, the bill would also allow children as young as 14 and a half years old to obtain driving permits to drive themselves to work.

The bill also extends the hours that children are allowed to work. Previous child labor laws in Iowa made it illegal for children to work past 7:00 pm. Under the new bill, these hours would be extended and children would be allowed to work until 9:00 pm during school and 11:00 pm over the summer. Critics have pointed out that these restrictions were in place to keep children in school and allow them to have time to focus on their education as well as work, and extending the hours that children can work much later into the night is likely to have a negative impact on their school work.

The bill would remove nearly all liability from the companies that employ children. Employers would not be civilly liable if a child worker was injured or killed on the job or traveling to work, even if it was found that the employer’s negligence caused the accident. The bill also caps the maximum penalty for companies that commit violations at $10,000 which could be waived or reduced by the Iowa labor commissioner. 

On the East Coast, Massachusetts Dem. Carlos Gonzalez recently partially walked back a bill that would allow prisoners to get time off their sentences in exchange for donating organs or bone marrow. Heavy criticism and online outrage lead to the incentive component of the bill to be removed.

The original bill would have allowed prisoners to give their organs and bone marrow in exchange for a reduction of their sentence between 60 days to one year. This proposition was met with not only ethical criticism, but skepticism over its legality as well. The bill would have constituted a quid-pro-quo, where the prisoners would be incentivized to give their body parts in exchange for time off. Many experts say this would be illegal because of existing laws prohibiting the sale of organs. If the bill had passed in its original form, it likely would have been challenged immediately. 

Dem. Carlos Gonzalez, who spearheaded the bill, has since rolled back the incentive component of the bill and left the part that allows them to donate their organs, this time with no sentence reduction. In a statement, Gonzalez said his original goal was to help prisoners donate their organs to family members and did not intend to emphasize the highly criticized incentive system. 


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