TRENTON – Lawmakers are looking to simplify the process for teenagers to get working papers required to get jobs, plus make other changes extending their work hours to help employers.

Amy Wagner, of Ocean City, a parent of two teens who has been helping them with working papers since 2017, says the state’s current law is among the most restrictive in the country, out-of-date and very cumbersome.

“It is a bit like a scavenger hunt to complete the paperwork for kids and their parents. Up to five different entities or individuals must review and sign these papers for each minor and each job, each year,” Wagner said. “We are required to get signatures and information to complete a piece of paper that really has no impact on my child’s work experience or safety.”

Working papers at schools?

Under a bill endorsed Thursday by the Assembly Labor Committee, A4222/S2796, schools would no longer issue working papers, which would shift to a Department of Labor online database. Wagner said a publicly accessible database could benefit parents and teens by identifying good employers who follow the law by being registered.

Permission from parents?

Parental consent would no longer be needed for a minor to work, though parents would have to be given a chance to opt them out of extended summer working hours. Schools and doctors wouldn’t have to give permission.

Wagner said the current state law treats child labor like it’s still the Industrial Revolution, with sweatshops and coal mines.

“Kids are generally happy to do things if they’re getting paid,” Wagner said. “And this age group especially is motivated to make money to finance their budding social lives and wardrobes.”

“Updating this nearly century-old law puts our kids on a level playing field with their peers across the country,” she said. “With so many positive byproducts to youth employment, we should all be able to agree that it would behoove us to do what we can to encourage more of it.”

RELATED: NJ working papers for teens: Know the process, know the law

Business groups are eager for the change

Hilary Chebra, manager of government relations for the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, said a busy year is expected for Jersey Shore businesses as rising gas prices and airfares mean nearby ‘staycations’ for a lot of families.

“These businesses being able to hire these eager teen workers to help them be able to maintain their full staffing levels and complete hours is important for them to have a successful summer,” Chebra said.

In addition to the general shortage of workers faced across the economy, business groups says seasonal businesses are being hamstrung by reductions in workers from overseas who have J-1 visas, due to the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other issues.

“We’re in the middle of a workforce crisis,” said Chris Emigholz, vice president of government affairs for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. “And I don’t think there is anything this Legislature could do to address that workforce crisis more than this bill.”

A change made last summer would become permanent, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to work 50 hours a week in the summer rather than 40. They could also work 10 hours a day, rather than eight, and could have to work six hours before getting a break, rather than five.

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Lawmakers indicated they’d try to act on the bill this month. Wagner said it would be good to have the changes in place as summer begins.

“In the absence of school, homework and extracurricular activities, summer brings about a lot of idle time for my kid,” she said. “And if more of that idle time can be taken up with additional work, that would mean less time will be wasted playing video games and endless boredom.”

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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