Are work permits for teens necessary?

Recent comments by Gov. Paul LePage in support of scaling back child labor laws to put more teenagers in jobs during the summer months have drawn criticism from some Democratic leaders.

LePage, speaking to Capitol News Service reporter Mal Leary, said he didn’t see any reason why children as young as 14 should not be allowed to work in the summer without a permit. He also expressed support for a training wage.

Under state law, teenagers under the age of 16 are required to get a permit from the Department of Labor. The governor said that process discourages some youth from getting jobs.

House Democratic Leader Emily Cain of Orono said she was disappointed to hear the governor talk about loosening child labor laws when some parents can’t even find jobs.

“In the last two weeks, more than 200 Maine people have lost their jobs … I want to focus on how we can put these people and unemployed Mainers across our state back to work,” Cain said this week. “We don’t need to pay younger workers less and continue to erode economic security for struggling families in our state.”

For his part, LePage has been focused on jobs. He has lead a series of job creation workshops for businesses, beginning last week in South Portland and continuing this week in Bangor.

The governor told Leary that he simply thought allowing teenagers to work earlier would instill a good work ethic that ultimately would help them through their adult life.

Some Republicans shared LePage’s view during the most recent legislative session.

Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting sponsored a bill that would have allowed children to work more hours during the school year, effectively letting the decisions fall to children and their parents.

That bill failed, as did another piece of legislation sponsored by Burns that sought to institute a a training wage for some young workers.

When the 125th Legislature’s 2nd regular session convenes in January, there will be no carry-over or new bills that seek changes to Maine’s child labor laws.

However, the governor can introduce a measure at any time between now and the session.  He has not indicated whether child labor laws will be part of his agenda.