Critics are accusing an Indiana state senator proposing to roll back the state's child labor laws of a potential conflict of interest because the lawmaker employs hundreds of minors at his business.
State Sen. Chip Perfect (R), the CEO of Perfect North Slopes ski resort, filed a Senate bill to scrap the laws that bar minors from working more than a set amount of time or late hours without parental consent.
Opponents of the bill, including educators and labor unions, say that changing the policy would allow Perfect North Slopes to employ more minors and keep them working late hours without work permits signed by parents.
The resort currently employs between 300-400 minors, Perfect told the Indy Star.
Perfect told The Washington Post that he requested a state Senate Ethics Committee ruling on conflict of interest, and said that all members on the committee did not find a conflict. He did not say why they reached that conclusion.
The chairwoman of the committee, State Sen. Liz Brown (R), said that ethics committee hearings are confidential and declined to comment on the panel’s findings to the Post.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Labor told the Indy Star that Perfect’s ski resort did not have any child labor violations in its most recent inspection.
Julia Vaughn, policy director of watchdog group Common Cause Indiana, told the Star that the state’s ethics laws lack clarity to determine if the bill has a conflict of interest. The state Senate rules don’t prohibit lawmakers from filing bills that would have a positive impact on their businesses.
"Given the fact that he employs a significant number of minors, his involvement in the issue would certainly trigger a second look and extra scrutiny," Vaughn told the Star. "But it's difficult under the current Senate rules to figure out the extent of the financial impact on Senator Perfect, and therefore, we're kind of left in this vague area where it's not clear."
Perfect said the bill would not affect his business directly, and told the Star it is “more about small businesses who cannot afford the resources to adhere to these antiquated laws.”
He issued a statement Thursday addressing the matter.
"Discussion surrounding the bill had been diverted from the real issue to something about me. However, it was determined not once but twice by the Senate that I had no conflict in working on this bill," he said. "We are a citizen legislature that relies on the experience of its members. I happen to be the most expert member of the General Assembly on this subject. Amending the bill to send it to an interim study committee, if passed, was the best strategy to keep this important discussion going."
Supporters of the bill say it would remove some of the bureaucracy that makes it difficult for minors to obtain work permits, such as needing to get a permit signed by an in-state school district.
Another resort owner, Holiday World CEO Matt Eckert, said during a hearing that work permits are an "administrative burden" on school districts, parents and students, and argued that they "serve no purpose," according to the Star.
Businesses in Indiana would still have to adhere to federal child labor laws, but critics say those laws do not go far enough to limit work hours for older teens.
Indiana State AFL-CIO executive director Rob Henderson told the Star that the state's laws exist "for a reason."
"Just undoing them, ... I don’t understand the intent, other than just trying to be able to work minors more hours," Henderson said.
Updated at 4:08 p.m. on Thursday.