Howard board, superintendent in legal battle as they run county school system

Kate Plus 8: Kid work permits come under more fire

Last week I wrote about the Kafkaesque defense that the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry was offering in connection with the work permits it issued for Kate Gosselin's 6-year-old kids. Read it here.

Now comes this formal response from State Rep. Thomas Murt who is trying to reform child labor laws so that such young children are not allowed to work on reality TV shows where virtually every aspect of their lives can be fair game for the cameras.

Please let me know what you think.

Dear Secretary Vito,

I appreciate your August 9th letter addressing the concerns I raised with permits for children under 7 to appear in televisions shows.  I took the opportunity to digest your response and wanted to follow up with you on your letter.

In all candor, the court cases you have cited do not apply to the situation at hand.  In my earlier letter, I noted the distinctly different treatment which the Child Labor Law affords to performances by young children on television versus performances by young children in motion pictures.  In order to aid the discussion, I will include some of the points discussed in my prior letter.   

Television Permits
Pennsylvania’s Child Labor Law, Act 177 of 1915, P.L. 286, Section 7.1(a) states, “The Department of Labor and Industry is hereby authorized to issue special permits for the employment of minors seven and under eighteen years of age in theatrical productions, musical recitals or concerts, entertainment acts, modeling, radio, television, motion picture making, or in other similar forms or media of entertainment in Pennsylvania where the performance of such minor is not hazardous to his safety or well-being...” (emphasis added).  This is the relevant permit for a minor to participate in a television show as well as any number of other performances. 

Additional Movie Permits
Section 7.1 (a.1) states, “In addition to any permit authorized by subsection (a), the department shall be authorized to issue special permits for the temporary employment of minors as part of the performing cast in the production of a motion picture, if the department determines that adequate provision has been made for the educational instruction, supervision, health and welfare of the minor.” (emphasis added).  This additional permit is limited to movies, i.e., a “motion picture,” and television is not mentioned.

Permits for children under the age of 7 are available for performing in a movie under (a.1), while permits are not similarly available for children under the age of 7 to participate in a television show under (a). 

I am not alone in this understanding of the law.  West’s Pennsylvania Forms has reached a similar conclusion.  In the forms related to employment law, prepared and updated by Attorneys Alan D. Berkowitz and Thomas B. Merritt, the authors note that Pennsylvania “has special rules governing the employment of children in theatrical productions, musical recitals or concerts, entertainment acts, modeling, etc. Under Pennsylvania law, L & I is authorized to issue special permits for work by minors ages 7 to 18.”  11 Pa.Forms § 4.10, Pennsylvania Child Labor Laws (footnotes omitted).  The authors go on to explain that Labor and Industry “is also authorized to issue ‘special permits for the temporary employment of minors as part of the performing cast in the production of a motion picture, if the department determines that adequate provision has been made for the educational instruction, supervision, health, and welfare of the minor.’ These ‘movie’ permits apparently have no minimum age requirement and are available only for taped, but not live, productions.” Id. (emphasis in bold added, footnotes omitted).

Statutory words have meaning.  The use of “television” and “motion picture” in one subsection, and the use of only “motion picture” in the following subsection, cannot simply be ignored.  If “television” and “motion picture” are the same thing, for the purposes of the Child Labor Law, they would not be listed separately.  Pennsylvania’s Statutory Construction Act provides several explanations of this concept.  “Every statute shall be construed, if possible, to give effect to all its provisions.”  1 Pa.C.S. § 1921(a).  The “General Assembly intends the entire statute to be effective and certain.”  1 Pa.C.S. § 1922(2).

With that background, I will address the two cases cited in your letter.  The Philadelphia Retail Liquor Dealers Association case, from 1948, questioned whether the Liquor Control Board could regulate the display of television in bars pursuant to a statute which allowed them to regulate movies in bars.  Philadelphia Retail Liquor Dealers Association v. Pennsylvania Liquor Control Bd., 62 A.2d 53 (Pa. 1948).  The statute at issue in Retail Liquor Dealers case did not mention television, it only mentioned motion pictures.  This is in stark contrast to the Child Labor Law, which has specific rules, by name, for television and motion pictures.  I would certainly agree that if the Child Labor Law only mentioned motion pictures and did not discuss television, the Retail Liquor Dealers case might be relevant.  I will refer back to the Statutory Construction Act, which provides that “(w)hen the words of a statute are clear and free from all ambiguity, the letter of it is not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit.”  1 Pa.C.S. § 1921(b).

The Ettore case is cut from the same cloth.  Ettore v. Philco Television Broadcasting Corp., 229 F.2d 481 (C.A.3 1956).  It involved a determination of rights concerning the television broadcast of a “motion picture” on television.  As noted by the court, “(c)ommercial television... was not in existence at the time of the Ettore-Louis contest.”  Id. at 491.  Television was not mentioned.

Ettore and Retail Liquor Dealers cases are talking about apples (no mention of television in the relevant contract or law) when the Child Labor Law is really about oranges (television specifically included in the law).  The comparison does not hold up.

I understand that, in today’s reality, there may be a need to create a permit process for younger children to participate in television shows in Pennsylvania.  I will reiterate my interest in working with the Department to discuss amendments to Section 7.1(a.1) to include that additional category and outline the appropriate agency oversight role.  I look forward to addressing these issues in a legislative context in the near future, and would continue to encourage you to reach out to the Pennsylvania Attorney General for an independent view of this law and its application. 


Thomas P. Murt
State Representative
152nd Legislative District

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