The Arkansas Senate on Thursday handily approved a bill that would repeal a state work permit requirement for children younger than 16 seeking employment.
The Senate voted 24-9 to send House Bill 1410 by Rep. Rebecca Burkes, R-Lowell, to the governor.
The bill would ax the state law that bars a person, firm or corporation from employing or permitting any children younger than 16 to work in or in connection with any establishment or occupation until the person, firm or corporation employing the child procures and keeps on file an employment certificate, accessible to the state Division of Labor, and the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education or local school officials.
HB1410 also would eliminate the state law that requires the employment certificate to be issued by the Division of Labor director, and the application for the employment certificate to include a proof of age, a description of the work and work schedule, and written consent from the parent or guardian.
Sen. Clint Penzo, R-Springdale, who is the Senate sponsor of HB1410, said 15 other states and the federal government don't require a work permit for 14- and 15-year-olds, who are not allowed to work in a dangerous setting under state and federal laws.
"There is no reason that anyone should have to get the government's permission to get a job," he said.
Penzo said, "We have got great laws to protect our kids, [but] the penalties are extremely weak," so he is working with the attorney general's office and Burkes on a bill that would strengthen criminal penalties.
But Sen. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, said the state work permits for 14- and 15-year-olds are free and easy to get and serve an important role in protecting children in Arkansas.
Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, said signing a piece of paper isn't that big of a deal in order to protect children.
Penzo said Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders supports the bill.
Sanders spokeswoman Alexa Henning said, "The Governor believes protecting kids is most important, but doing so with arbitrary burdens on parents to get permission from the government for their child to get a job is burdensome and obsolete."
"All child labor laws will still apply and we expect businesses to comply just as they are required to do now," Henning said in a written statement.