Missouri State Sen. Jane Cunningham (R) is pushing a bill which would dramatically claw back state child labor protections. As the bill’s official summary explains:
This act modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed. It also repeals the requirement that a child ages fourteen or fifteen obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed. Children under sixteen will also be allowed to work in any capacity in a motel, resort or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished. It also removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.
To be fair, children in Missouri would still enjoy robust protections against exploitation even if Cunningham succeeded in repealing all child labor laws in her state, thanks to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. But far right lawmakers have declared war on federal child labor laws as well. In a lengthy lecture delivered before his election to the U.S. Senate, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) praises a discredited 1918 Supreme Court decision declaring child labor laws unconstitutional. That decision, which Lee holds out a model for his tenther vision of the Constitution, was unanimously overruled by the Supreme Court in 1941.
As recently as the day before President Obama moved into the White House, it was difficult to imagine even the most conservative lawmakers breaking with the 70 year-old consensus surrounding child labor laws. Welcome to the post-Tea Party era, where even the most bizarre and disastrous mistakes from America’s past are part of the right-wing’s agenda.