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Wisconsin will keep work permit requirement for younger teens after governor’s veto

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers rejected a bill that would have nixed the requirement for 14- and 15-year-olds

Gov. Evers looks forward as he delivers an address from the podium.
Gov. Tony Evers delivers the State of the State address Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has rejected a bill that would have allowed 14- and 15-year-olds to work in Wisconsin without a permit.

Currently, workers younger than 16 need a permit from Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development to hold most types of jobs, with the exception of agriculture and domestic work.

The application can be filled out online with the sign-off of a parent or guardian.

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Republican backers say the bill would have sped up hiring by cutting red tape and making it easier for kids to work.

They noted the bill would not have repealed any workforce safety standards for children.

Other regulations such as a limit on how many hours kids under 16 can work, a ban on minors working during school hours and a prohibition on children doing “hazardous” work would remain in place.

“This is a simple bill that takes away a bureaucratic step in our youth working,” Sponsor Rep. Amy Binsfeld, R-Sheboygan, said earlier this year, just before Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Assembly voted to approve the proposal.

But, Democrats and union leaders have argued the change would take away oversight.

Evers cited concerns about safety when he vetoed the bill Monday morning during a conference in Madison for Machinists Union District 10.

“I object to eliminating a process that ensures our kids are protected from employers that may exploit youth and inexperience or subject children to hazardous or illegal working conditions,” Evers wrote in a veto message. “This bill eliminates a process that ensures parents and guardians have knowledge of employment so they can, in their judgment, determine whether a job may be detrimental to their young worker’s health, safety, social development, or academic success.”

Republicans are short of the legislative super-majority that would be needed to override a veto.

Wisconsin’s DWD can deny or revoke a permit if job doesn’t comply with child labor requirements. The DWD uses the permit system as a way to track child labor in Wisconsin, and it’s the department’s “primary tool” for disseminating information about child labor laws to businesses that employ minors, according to a fiscal analysis attached to the bill.

Speaking before the bill cleared the Assembly in February, Rep. Deb Andraca, D-Whitefish Bay, said Republicans should instead support proposals backed by the governor, including paid family leave and state subsidies to child care centers.

“The answer to Wisconsin’s worker shortage is not shorter workers,” Andraca said.

 The proposal had the backing of the National Federation of Independent Business and  Wisconsin Independent Businesses, Inc. The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO opposed it.

In 2017, then- Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill into law that repealed work permit requirements for 16- and 17-year-olds.

A child work permit is $10, and the cost must be covered by an employer. Over the past five years, permit fees have brought in approximately in $288,000 in annual revenue, according to a nonpartisan fiscal analysis. Part of that revenue has paid for one full-time equal rights officer, tasked with investigating labor law violations.