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LePage Administration Pushes Changes in Teen Work Permits
10/23/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

If your 14- or 15-year-old wants to work after school, or during the summer, they need your permission - as well as a permit from the Maine Department of Labor. But the state is proposing a plan to streamline the work-permit process for young teens in the summer, and allow them to work in movie theatres and bowling alleys, jobs that are currently off limits. And, as Mal Leary reports, the measure may lead to a broader look at decades-old provisions that limit where those teens can work.

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The LePage administration says the current permitting process is cumbersome, particularly as applied to summer work. Once a student has a promise of a job, the school superintendent has to determine whether that student meets the age requirement, and then sends a form to the Department of Labor. The department then reviews the permit application to make sure the particular job is allowed under the law, and sends the form back to the superintendent, who then gives the teen the permit to give to the employer. Pam Taylor is Director of the Bureau of Labor Standards that oversees the process.

"If there is a delay because they can't reach a superintendent's office, and that goes from a week to two weeks, and all that documentation still has to be forwarded to us, for us to approve," says Pam Taylor, the director of the Bureau of Labor Standards, which oversees the process. "Now we normally turn those permits once we get them from the superintendent's office, in 24 to 48 hours, but still they then have to go back and get the permit after, that, so, the delay of them actually starting the job? You could have half the summer gone."

Under the proposed legislation, a teen would be able to go to the department to start the process for a summer work permit, and have a copy sent to the school superintendent after the agency has done its work. Taylor says it should speed up the process and reduce the number of complaints the department and the governor's office have received.

The measure also would allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work in movie theatres and bowling alleys. Susan Wasserott is the legislative liaison for the department.

"The vast majority of other states allow students to work in bowling alleys or in movie theatres, and the federal government allows that as well," Wasserott says.

Taylor says she has turned down several permit requests from teens seeking work in those businesses, and that's why the change was proposed. She says there are many restrictions on young teens in Maine, including a ban on working in motels and hotels that's been in effect for decades.

"The intent at that point in time was not to expose a minor to the potentiality of nudity," Taylor says. "So traditionally, under the federal FSLA a minor could work a motel or hotel as a desk clerk, taking payments."

Taylor says most restrictions are based on safety concerns about young teens operating various kinds of equipment that could be dangerous, but acknowledges it may be time to reconsider some of the employment restrictions. Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, a Democrat from Portland, agrees, but says state law must still maintain a balance between work experience and school.

"If there are different industries where students can get good kind of working relationships and start getting, you know, great experiences. then let's make sure they have them," Alfond says. "But, again, it all comes down to making sure that we are not hurting or coming upon the child's, the student's main responsibility, which is to do well in school."

Alfond says he has not seen the draft legislation but believes it should get an objective review by lawmakers. He has opposed similar legislation in the past because he says it failed to keep the proper balance between work and school.

The measure will have a public hearing when the Legislature reconvenes in January.



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