Letter to the Editor: Child Labor Laws in Bad Need of an Update
State Representative Tom Murt's (R-152) House Bill 1548, now under state senate review, is designed to protect child entertainers and workers.
Over the years, many of us have enjoyed TV shows that feature child entertainers. One of the most popular programs in recent years was “Kate Plus Eight,” about the Gosselin Family from Reading, which featured their eight children in a Reality TV format.
While children can make for good entertainment and high ratings, their work in the entertainment industry can be problematic if the kids are not protected properly.
The film tax credits offered by the Commonwealth, and the abundance of resources we have in Pennsylvania, have attracted many film companies to our state for professional productions. Many of these productions taking place in the Commonwealth feature child actors.
Unfortunately, our child labor laws in Pennsylvania badly need to be updated to ensure that our child actors are being afforded appropriate protections.
One former child actor from the 1950s and 1960s is Paul Petersen of “The Donna Reed Show.”
As an adult, Petersen is America’s premier advocate for child actors and former child actors.
I reached out to Petersen a few years back to inquire about Pennsylvania's laws regarding child entertainers. I have been working closely with him to reform Pennsylvania’s child labor laws.
Petersen runs an organization called 'A Minor Consideration' which advocates for current child actors and their families, supports former child actors, and provides guidance to current parents who have questions about getting their children into show business. With Petersen’s experience and assistance, I have written and introduced House Bill 1548, which affords protections to child entertainers and workers in Pennsylvania. Child labor laws in Pennsylvania have not been updated in decades, so changes are long overdue.
House Bill 1548 makes some very important amendments to our existing child labor law as it relates to child entertainers. My bill assures the education of child actors by requiring a production company to provide a certified teacher for the child actor - on the set. Too many child actors have missed critically important instructional time in their home school district while they were filming commercials or other productions.
Another important aspect of House Bill 1548 is the requirement that a trust account be set-up for child actors. Jackie Coogan made millions of dollars as a child actor in silent films, but his savings were spent by his mother and step-father leaving him nothing when he turned 18 years-old. California wisely enacted a law that requires child actors to have 15-percent of their earnings set-aside for them in a trust account. House Bill 1548 proposes this same protection for child actors in Pennsylvania.
My bill also sets parameters on work hours for child actors. The current law is nebulous and weak as it relates to the hours a child can work and whether a child in a Reality TV show is even working at all. My bill tightens-up this requirement in a meaningful way. It sets specific limits on how late and how early a child actor can work and how many hours a child actor may work in a day and in a week. Additionally, House Bill 1548 places restrictions on the participation of infants in commercials and on TV shows. Infants, or newborns, only days old, are too young to start being filmed or 'working' on a production set. My bill requires that a doctor certify when an infant is old enough, healthy enough, and strong enough to participate in a production before they are filmed.
Many years ago, Reality TV did not exist. Now, it is now a popular genre of entertainment. My bill recognizes this and takes measures to protect kids who appear in a Reality TV show. Children, like the Gosselin kids, are not just being filmed when they go to McDonalds or the playground, they are also working. My bill allows children to participate in a Reality TV program if the participation is not harmful and if they have the proper permits.
For an extended period of time, the Gosselin children did not even have the required permits to work in Reality TV. My bill reforms the permitting process for child actors. It requires that child actors have state permits, and that a performance is not hazardous to the minor's safety or well-being. Finally, my bill requires that a minor who is under 16 be accompanied by a parent/guardian who must be within sound or sight of the minor at all times.
The answers to the many of the problems that child actors face is better parenting. Unfortunately, many parents pressure their children into the entertainment industry. Many of these kids have experienced problems or have been deprived of an innocent childhood.
House Bill 1548 addresses some of these problems in a positive way. House Bill 1548 is in the Pennsylvania Senate and will soon come up for a full vote.
152rd Legislative District