Lobbyists and the restaurant industry are the driving force behind a proposed child labor bill that Republicans are pushing through the Iowa legislature, a new investigation has revealed, as the GOP wages an extremist push to loosen child labor regulations across the country.
According to an investigation by More Perfect Union, the extremely powerful restaurant industry group the National Restaurant Association, sometimes known as the “other NRA,” spearheaded the effort behind child labor expansion bill Senate File 167. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jason Schultz (R) would allow children as young as 14 to work dangerous jobs in industrial freezers, meat coolers and industrial laundry. It would also expand the hours that children are allowed to work during the school year and throughout the summer.
In the video report posted by More Perfect Union, Brad Epperly, a legal counsel for lobbyists, appeared to openly admit that the bill was written by the NRA. The NRA has been proselytizing about expanding child labor, and last year sent out a newsletter praising the “record hourly wages” that children are making at work in Iowa in particular.
“The bill was really spearheaded by the Restaurant Association,” Epperly said. “We sort of came along, we were asked to be — we were invited to come along.” Epperly has previously lobbied the Iowa legislature on behalf of clients like the Iowa Grocery Industry Association.
According to the report, the current legislation first came into being in a November meeting of the Iowa Workforce Development Board, a group tasked with “the development and implementation of the state workforce development plan,” according to the group’s website. The board is overseen by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, is chaired by Iowa builders’ lobbyist group executive officer Jay Iverson, and is full of business executives and lobbyists.
More Perfect Union further detailed numerous connections between the industries of the members on the board and the Republican Party when it comes to campaign contributions, each with their own business-related interest in expanding the pool of cheap labor.
Corporate lobbyists like the Koch family and the Iowa Restaurant Association have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to people like Reynolds and Schultz. Grocery company Hy-Vee, for instance, has donated over $800,000 to Iowan politicians like Reynolds, Schultz and the Iowa Senate Majority Leader Republican Jack Whitver over the past decade — while also being a prolific violator of child labor laws.
The investigation comes as corporations have been caught violating child labor laws at a growing rate — and, perhaps not coincidentally, as Republicans have been pushing to loosen child labor laws. Republicans in Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin have introduced bills to expand child labor, while Arkansas’s Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill into law last month that would make it easier for employers to violate child labor regulations.
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