Governor Kim Reynolds recently penned an open letter amidst a tempest over hefty fines slapped on Iowa businesses for flouting federal child labor laws. The hullabaloo began with a last-minute state legislation tweak at the end of last year, allowing 14 and 15-year-olds to work until 9 p.m. on school nights and 11 p.m. during holidays—much to the chagrin of federal guidelines that call it quits at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., respectively. 

Since the dawn of 2024, seven eateries in Iowa have found themselves in hot water, coughing up a cool half-million bucks in fines. One unlucky diner alone was slapped with a whopping $180,000 penalty. Governor Reynolds insists the law was crafted to support the backbone of Iowa's economy—small-town joints where kids flip burgers or slice pizzas. 

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Are you buying what they're selling?

However, not everyone's buying it. Critics claim the fines are more inflated than a parade balloon and point fingers at groups like the Iowa Restaurant Association for hoodwinking lawmakers and local businesses about what the law really meant. State Representative Amy Nielsen, from the whimsically named District 85, accused these groups of leading everyone down the garden path, resulting in a fine mess. 

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Some are saying The IRA is at the center of this

Jessica Dunker, the big cheese at the Iowa Restaurant Association, shared anecdotes of intimidated business owners, likening federal investigators to stern librarians shushing kids. She lamented that some owners are so spooked they'd rather eat glass than speak publicly about their fines. 

Governor Reynolds and her posse insist the law's intentions were pure—aimed at giving Iowa's young workforce more wiggle room, not wringing every last dime out of family-owned diners. The ruckus highlights the ongoing tug-of-war between state and federal rules and how they impact everyone from burger flippers to pizza tossers in the heart of corn country. 

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