Oregon Child Labour Amendment Bill Moves To Gov. Kotek To Sign

Introduced to pursue offenders and retain penalties levied against employers who violate Oregon’s child labor laws, House Bill 4004 which seeks to empower the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries has passed both chambers of the Oregon Legislature. After passing the Senate in a 24-to-6 vote on February 26, the bill is now headed to Gov. Tina Kotek for signature.

Widespread media coverage brought the attention of the Labor Bureau to a surge in illegal child labor across the country. The state agency requested the bill because under current Oregon law, it is compelled to defer to the U.S. Department of Labor to establish whether it should investigate reports of child labor violations. If the federal agency imposes a penalty for violations, Oregon can’t levy its own penalties for those same violations. It must refund any state penalties already been paid by the employer.

Around 24 cases were not investigated by the Bureau of Labor and Industries in 2023 as they referred these cases to the federal Labor Department. Several of these cases involved reports of minors injured while performing hazardous work that legislation prohibits them from doing.

Christina Stephenson- the state Labor Commissioner, told lawmakers in the House in January that the mandate gives bad actors a competitive edge as it effectively becomes a discount on child labor violations. There are no other violation clauses in Oregon’s labor laws leading to a refund in similar circumstances according to the Labor Bureau.

While the bureau does not impose the maximum penalty for every child labor violation, there are also instances where it doesn’t issue penalties at all. Designated officials the state agency may elect to resolve an employer’s violations with a compliance agreement as an alternative. The head of the labor bureau’s wage and hour division, Laura van Enckevort, said that by eliminating the mandate to refund employers, the agency’s autonomy would be increased.


Increased Penalties For Child Labor Bill Passes House

Introduced by Rep. Travis Nelson, D-Portland, the new amendment raising the maximum penalty amount will be the cap’s first increase since the 1980s. Nelson said that the increase is long overdue.

After facing scrutiny on the Senate floor from a handful of Republican legislators, the bill passed unanimously out of the House. Two senators criticized the provision increasing the maximum penalty per child labor violation from $1,000 to $10,000.

The House Bill 4004 can be accessed on the Website of the Oregon Legislature.


Some Republicans Oppose Bill To Crackdown On Child Labour

Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls believes that the high penalty would crush most small businesses. He proposed that the bill be defeated on the day so that a better discussion could be held to talk about the opportunities and ins and outs to ensure kids grow up with a world of business and hard work available at their fingertips. He said, “This bill is an unnecessary heavy hand.”

The Republican critiques of increased penalties did not slow the momentum of the bill as other Republicans supported the bill. Senator Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, said that he was reassured that the maximum amount would likely only be applied in more extreme situations after bringing his concerns about the amount of the fine to the attention of Labor Bureau officials. He indicated that the bureau is looking for people wilfully violating the Act, and continuing to violate child labor laws intentionally.

Van Enckevort indicated that they want to make it very clear that they are holding employers accountable- regardless of any action that the U.S. Department of Labor takes. She said, “From our standpoint, we want to be able to send the message that Oregon does not tolerate child labor violations.”

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