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House passes bill allowing 14-year-olds to work without permit

Kids as young as 14 could get a job without a work permit under a bill passed by the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Delegates were split on the wisdom as debate unfolded in the House on Tuesday, but the bill passed by a fairly wide margin, 83-16.

“I must say that many of us in this room probably worked when we were 12, 13, 14 years old out on a farm, bailing hay, digging postholes, whatever we were doing,” said Delegate Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier.

“And if [there is] one thing kids need today in our society [it] is to start learning work at an earlier age not a later age. This is a good bill. Let’s let those kids get to work.”

Most of House Bill 5159 works by marking out portions of existing law detailing work permit requirements for 14- and 15-year-olds. The bill leaves in place a written parental consent standard.

The bill switches supervision over work permits from the state superintendent of schools to authorization of age certificates by the state labor commissioner.

“All this is doing is saying you don’t have to go through that onerous process of a work permit to get their kid being able to do some work,” said Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Putnam.

Delegate Elliott Pritt, R-Fayette, spoke against the bill and raised questions about parents who benefit financially from their children working. Pritt, a teacher, also questioned the effects on student achievement and attendance.

And he noted that West Virginia has longstanding workforce participation issues, but Pritt said this bill is not an appropriate response.

“I don’t think opening up the labor force to 14-year-olds in the eighth grade is the answer to the problems we have,” Pritt said.

Delegate John Williams, D-Monongalia, asked, “What about children being given the opportunity to be kids, to pursue an education?”

House Government Organization Committee Chairman Chris Phillips said the bill would put parents in charge of decisions about their children’s work activities.

“Parents are the gatekeepers for their children,” said Phillips, R-Barbour. “And while we may have some instances of parents that aren’t doing their job, that doesn’t mean every child in the state of West Virginia should be punished for that.”