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A think tank funded by a far-right billionaire wrote a bill to weaken child-labor laws in Florida, records show
Emails and text messages show a controversial new bill in the Florida Legislature came from the Foundation for Government Accountability, an anti-worker worker advocacy group.
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Note: A version of this story was initially published by More Perfect Union.
A conservative think tank funded by a far-right billionaire wrote a controversial new bill in Florida that would weaken the state’s child-labor laws, according to records obtained by More Perfect Union.
The records show that representatives for the Foundation for Government Accountability wrote the original draft of the Florida legislation, which would allow employers in the state to make 16- and 17-year-old teenagers work the same schedules as adults — including overnight shifts on school nights.
“Attached is draft language on the Youth Worker Freedom issue that Rep. Chaney expressed interest in to FGA,” a lobbyist for the FGA’s advocacy arm wrote in an Aug. 28 email to an aide to Rep. Linda Chaney, a Republican legislator from St. Pete Beach, which More Perfect Union obtained through a public-records request.
Three weeks later, Chaney filed House Bill 49, a nearly verbatim copy of the FGA’s proposal.
The Florida bill is part of a nationwide campaign led by the FGA to roll back longstanding child-labor protections in many states around the country. At least 16 states have now introduced similar bills, according to the Economic Policy institute.
Based in Naples — and best known for fighting efforts to expand Medicaid health insurance to more Americans — the Foundation for Government Accountability is funded in large part by Dick Uihlein, a billionaire behind election-denial efforts and other far-right causes who founded the Wisconsin-based shipping supplies company Uline.
Tax records show that roughly a third of the FGA’s funding in recent years has come from the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, a private foundation that Dick Uihlein personally leads and funds.
Dick Uihlein has also been a major donor to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Campaign-finance records show the billionaire has donated more than $2.4 million to DeSantis over the past five years — including $1 million to the Super PAC financing DeSantis’ campaign for president.
DeSantis has, in turn, worked very closely with the Uihlein-funded FGA. With the FGA cheering him on, the Florida governor has cut unemployment benefits for out-of-work Floridians, signed a union-busting law meant to make it harder for most public-sector employees in the state to collectively bargain, and led a brutish purge of the state’s Medicaid rolls following the COVID-19 pandemic.
DeSantis has so far declined to say whether he would sign or veto HB 49 if it passes during Florida’s 2024 legislative session, which begins in January.
“Since this legislation is still subject to the legislative process (and therefore different iterations), the governor will decide on the merits of the bill in final form if and when it passes and is delivered to the governor's office,” DeSantis spokesperson Jeremy Redfern said Monday.
Under current state law, businesses in Florida cannot make 16- or 17-year-olds work between 11 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. on a school night. They cannot make those teenagers work more than eight hours when they have school the next day. And they cannot make them work more 30 hours a week during the school year or more than six days in a row at any point.
HB 49 would eliminate all those restrictions. What’s more, the legislation would also bar any local communities in Florida from stepping in and enacting stronger child-labor protections themselves.
The legislation has drawn criticism from advocates for workers in Florida, who contend that it would undo important safeguards against child exploitation while allowing businesses to sidestep a tight labor market by using more cheap teen labor — rather than raising pay to attract more adult employees.
“We know that being overworked and sleep-deprived leads to poor school performance and workplace accidents and injuries,” said Alexis Tsoukalas, a policy analyst at the left-leaning Florida Policy Institute. “HB 49 will force kids to make a choice between their education and well-being and keeping their jobs.”
Amid that criticism, records show Chaney has turned to the FGA for help.
“Apparently some people don’t like HB 49, so the data points and talking points would be helpful sooner rather than later,” an aide to Chaney wrote in a Sept. 19 text message to an FGA lobbyist, after Chaney’s office was contacted by a reporter.
The lobbyist responded a short time later with talking points claiming that letting businesses make teenagers work more hours “allows them to learn valuable skills, [and] earn money while assisting small businesses with working shortages.” The talking points also claim that local cities or counties who try to adopt stronger child-labor laws “may prevent teenagers from freely working and learning the value of a dollar.”
Neither Chaney nor representatives for the FGA responded to request for comment.
Weakening child-labor laws isn’t the FGA’s only goal in Florida. Separate records show the organization has also been advocating for policies that would make it harder for Floridians to obtain food stamps, evict people from affordable housing, and allow government contractors to pay lower wages to their workers.