Lawmakers Eye a Fix for Child Labor Problems

U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Democratic Rep. Hillary Scholten’s constituents began calling her with concerns soon after the New York Times reported details last month of migrant child laborers working dangerous, often grueling jobs, including at a facility in her Michigan district. Since then, Scholten teamed up with Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina to write a bill increasing the civil penalties—tenfold in some cases—for companies that break child labor laws.

Their bill is only two pages long and has one focus. Current federal law (passed in 1938) caps the maximum fine companies can incur for a child labor violation at $15,138 unless the violation leads to serious injury or death, which can bump the fine to $68,801. Scholten and Mace’s Justice for Exploited Children Act would raise those to $132,270 and $601,150, respectively. It would also institute new minimum fines for violations: $5,000 for any violation and $25,000 for those resulting in serious injury or death. The fines would rise and fall in correlation with inflation.

“This is not a controversial piece of legislation,” Scholten said in a press release about the bill. “It is a commonsense, bi-partisan one.”

“As a mother, it’s heartbreaking to see stories of children subjected to illegal work conditions here in the United States,” Mace said about the legislation in the announcement. “It is our responsibility to protect children and ensure they are not subjected to the exploitation of child labor.”

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