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Context of 'January 4, 2011: Republican Senator Says Federal Government Has No Power to Regulate Child Labor, Cites Overturned Supreme Court Decision, Misinterprets Constitution as ‘Proof’'

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US Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) posts a video on his YouTube channel in which he declares federal child labor laws “unconstitutional.” Lee says: “Congress decided it wanted to prohibit [child labor], so it passed a law—no more child labor. The Supreme Court heard a challenge to that and the Supreme Court decided a case in 1918 called Hammer v. Dagenhardt. In that case, the Supreme Court acknowledged something very interesting—that, as reprehensible as child labor is, and as much as it ought to be abandoned—that’s something that has to be done by state legislators, not by members of Congress.… This may sound harsh, but it was designed to be that way. It was designed to be a little bit harsh. Not because we like harshness for the sake of harshness, but because we like a clean division of power, so that everybody understands whose job it is to regulate what. Now, we got rid of child labor, notwithstanding this case. So the entire world did not implode as a result of that ruling.” Think Progress reporter Ian Millhiser calls Lee’s interpretation flawed. The Constitution gives Congress the power “[t]o regulate commerce… among the several states [and to] make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution” this power to regulate commerce. This provision has been upheld in many Court cases. Lee failed to note that in 1941, the Court unanimously overruled Hammer v. Daggenhardt in United States v. Darby. Moreover, Millhiser notes, child labor exploitation did not stop until Congress placed strict limits on it in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, a law upheld by United States v. Darby. [Think Progress, 1/31/2011] Senate Republicans will give Lee a seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which works with constitutional interpretation. Lee has also declared Social Security, Medicare, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), food stamps, and income assistance to the poor all unconstitutional. [Think Progress, 1/27/2011]

Entity Tags: Ian Millhiser, US Supreme Court, Michael Shumway (“Mike”) Lee, Senate Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Global Economic Crises

Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham (R-St. Louis ) introduces SB 22 into consideration. The bill would eliminate many state child labor protections, most notably lifting the ban on children under 14 being allowed to work. The bill’s official summary reads in part: “This act modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age 14. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed. It also repeals the requirement that a child ages 14 or 15 obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed. Children under 16 will also be allowed to work in any capacity in a motel, resort, or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished. It also removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.” While the federal Fair Labor Standards Act would continue to protect child workers in Missouri, Lee’s law, if passed, would let employers hire children under 14, let them work far longer hours, and prohibit state oversight agencies from monitoring employers for possible exploitation or abuse. AFL-CIO blogger Mike Hall calls Lee’s proposal “absolutely insane.” [Mike Hall, 2/14/2011; Think Progress, 2/15/2011]

Entity Tags: Mike Hall, Fair Labor Standards Act, Jane Cunningham, Missouri Division of Labor Standards

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Global Economic Crises

Maine State Representative David Burns (R-Whiting) introduces a child labor bill that would allow employers to pay workers under 20 years of age a $5.25/hour “training wage.” Such a law would go against Maine’s minimum wage of $7.50/hour. Critics say that Burns’s proposal devalues young workers, and takes money out of the hands of laborers and gives it to business. Burns’s proposal is part of a larger package he presents, LD 1346, which would make a number of changes to Maine’s child labor laws, including lifting restrictions that limit the maximum hours a minor over the age of 16 can work during school days. Burns calls his legislation “empowering” for young workers, and says employers would be more apt to hire minors if they could pay them the smaller wage. “An employer’s got to have employees, so they can decide what they want to pay,” he says. “The student wants to have a job, and they can decide what they’re willing to work for.” Maine Democrats and labor advocates have come out strongly against the bill. Maine Democratic Party chairman Ben Grant accuses Burns of “trying to erase the progress of child labor laws.” The bill, if passed, would roll back wages earned by teens to a point not seen since the 1980s. Laura Harper of the Maine Women’s Lobby says the bill would undermine efforts to “teach teens the value of hard work.” Instead, she says, the bill “sends them the message that they aren’t valued. That doesn’t fit with Maine values. At a time when business leaders recognize that student achievement is critical to Maine’s economic growth, this bill will shortchange students and impair Maine’s economic success.” She cites a 2000 US Department of Labor study that showed “working a limited number of hours in the junior and senior years of high school has a positive effect on educational attainment.” Representative Timothy Driscoll (D-Westbrook) says the bill, and another measure in Maine’s Senate, would result in “kids working more hours during the school week and making less money.” [Bangor Daily News, 3/30/2011] Think Progress reporter Ian Millhiser observes: “Burns’s bill is particularly insidious, because it directly encourages employers to hire children or teenagers instead of adult workers. Because workers under 20 could be paid less than adults under this GOP proposal, minimum wage workers throughout Maine would likely receive a pink slip as their 20th birthday present so that their boss could replace them with someone younger and cheaper.” Millhiser notes that Burns’s proposal is just one of a number efforts that would dramatically roll back child labor restrictions (see January 4, 2011 and February 14, 2011). [Think Progress, 3/31/2011] The Maine House Labor Committee will reject the bill on a unanimous vote that will come without discussion. Burns will not be present for the vote. Another proposal loosening work restrictions for 16- and 17-year-olds is pending in the Maine Senate. [Lewiston/Auburn Sun Journal, 5/6/2011]

Entity Tags: Ian Millhiser, Timothy Driscoll, David Burns, Ben Grant, Laura Harper

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Global Economic Crises, Domestic Propaganda

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT).Senator Mike Lee (R-UT). [Source: Gabe Skidmore / Telestial State (.com)]Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)‘s “leadership PAC,” the Constitutional Conservatives Fund PAC (CCFPAC), writes to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to ask for permission to collect unlimited contributions from corporations, labor unions, and individual donors for independent spending on behalf of other candidates. So-called “leadership PACs” are political committees set up and run by members of Congress, and other elected officials, to allow them to make contributions to other candidates and spend money on their behalf. It is a well-established method for Congressional members to build influence within their parties. The CCFPAC’s lawyers argue that there is no danger of other candidates being corrupted, because CCFPAC’s spending to help candidates get elected (or to attack their opponents) will be independent of those candidates. The request cites the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) that allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts in independent expenditures on behalf of candidates. Law professor Richard Hasen will argue that such a contention—that a candidate will not be corrupted because the spending on his or her behalf—is specious, and moreover, another danger exists, that of the corruption of the head(s) of the leadership PAC. He will write, “Corporations or labor unions (acting through other organizations to shield their identity from public view) could give unlimited sums to an elected official’s leadership PAC, which could then be used for the official to yield influence with others.” Any member of Congress could use his or her leadership PAC to effectively become the fundraising arm of their party, Hasen will write, merely by funneling all the money through that leadership PAC. Hasen argues that the McCain-Feingold ban on such “soft money” collections (see March 27, 2002) was not set aside by Citizens United, though he will cite a single sentence of the majority opinion in that decision as being a possible means of giving the CCFPAC request a veneer of legal justification: “We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” That sentence, Hasen will argue, “which denies the reality that large independent spending favoring a candidate can sometimes corrupt or create the appearance of corruption, looks like it may doom those soft-money rules too. The result of all this is that federal campaign finance law is unraveling even faster than pessimists expected after Citizens United.” [PAC, 10/17/2011 pdf file; Slate, 10/25/2011] Think Progress legal analyst Ian Millhiser will agree with Hasen, writing that “[i]n essence, Lee just sought permission to set up his own slush fund, powered by unlimited corporate donors, and use this slush fund to buy influence with his fellow lawmakers by running ads in their districts.… So Lee’s idea is that corporate CEOs, Wall Street tycoons, and other well-moneyed interests can show up at his office and turn over completely unlimited amounts of funds. Lee can then buy new friends in Washington and in state governments by channeling these corporate funds to an army of grateful politicians. And the more money corporate America gives him, the more powerful Lee becomes—and the more he owes this new found power to his brand new corporate sugar daddies.” [Think Progress, 10/26/2011]

Entity Tags: Richard L. Hasen, Federal Election Commission, Ian Millhiser, Michael Shumway (“Mike”) Lee, Constitutional Conservatives Fund PAC

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) unanimously rejects a petition by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) for him to be allowed to head his own “super PAC” (see March 26, 2010). Lee’s “leadership PAC,” the Constitutional Conservatives Fund PAC (CCFPAC), had requested permission from the FEC to turn itself into a PAC capable of accepting donations directly from corporations and unions (see October 17, 2011). Previously, the FEC had released a draft opinion opposing the request, but Lee’s lawyer Dan Backer had said he felt the FEC would approve the request. Lee spokesperson Brian Phillips calls the decision “a head-scratcher.” Backer and Lee had counted on the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) that allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts in independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, and essentially say that if corporations and unions can run super PACs, politicians should be able to do so as well. They argued that because the law bars Lee from spending the money on his own reelection efforts, and because he is willing to pledge that he would not personally solicit large donations, the FEC should grant the request. The draft opinion said that Lee’s request violates campaign finance law that expressly prohibits elected officials from being associated with a political entity that collects money beyond the legal limits (see March 27, 2002), and the unanimous decision echoes that finding. A PAC such as the CCFPAC is limited to collecting $5,000 per person per year and is banned entirely from accepting corporate donations. Lee, a “tea party” favorite, would have been the first politician in the country to have his own super PAC. Commissioner Donald McGahn, the most conservative commissioner and an opponent of most campaign finance laws, told Lee and his legal team: “Your argument essentially does away with contribution limits. It’s well beyond what we do here and well beyond what I do here, which is saying something.” McGahn says he agrees that the government should not discriminate when applying regulations on independent expenditures, but that the statute and regulations clearly limit contributions to members of Congress to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. Lee’s office says that letting Lee run a super PAC of his own would actually increase transparency and accountability. Lee may yet appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. [Salt Lake Tribune, 11/24/2011; Think Progress, 11/28/2011; Deseret News, 12/1/2011]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, Brian Phillips, Constitutional Conservatives Fund PAC, Donald McGahn, Michael Shumway (“Mike”) Lee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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