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Child Actors Part of New PA Child Labor Law

In the last legislative session, Pennsylvania lawmakers approved sweeping changes to the state’s child labor laws including, for the first time, language aimed at protecting child actors.  The law goes so far as to define “reality TV” and place it under many of the same controls.

“Up until this time, reality TV as a genre of entertainment has not been defined,” said State Representative Thomas Murt of suburban Philadelphia.  HB 1548 defines reality TV as “A genre of program that principally presents actual events and generally features ordinary people and not professional actors.”

Governor Tom Corbett signed the bill and the law will take effect late next month.

Murt said the creation of such “reality” entertainment must fall under many of the same guidelines as other more traditional forms of entertainment.  “There are scripts, there are story arcs, there are sets.”

The section of the bill covering reality TV was written after family members of John and Kate Gosselin, of the popular television program “John and Kate Plus 8,” gave testimony at a legislative hearing.  “They filmed a Christmas episode in August. The kids were in their Christmas pajamas, there was a Christmas tree, there were presents and so forth,” said Murt.

Murt originally became interested in revamping the child labor laws for actors when he learned that there were more protections for animals on the set than there were for children on the set.  The new law requires that a teacher be on set if a child is going to miss more than two consecutive days of school.  It also limits the hours that a child can be on the set; requires that all children on the set have a contract; and, that at least 15 percent of their pay be put into a trust fund that they can access when they become adults. 

Such provisions are often referred to as Jackie Coogan laws after the actor who eventually became “Uncle Fester” on “The Addams Family.”  Coogan was also a child actor whose parents frittered away his earnings.

Murt said when the requirements take effect, Pennsylvania will have the third tightest child actor laws following California and New York.

With the state offering film tax credits to lure productions and given it’s natural and man made assets important to the filming industry, Murt said it appeared as if child labor issues related to movies and television would not be going away any time soon.  “We felt it was time for us to update this [law] and do a better job of protecting our children,” said Murt.

Rep. Murt is quick to note that the bill was crafted with the help of the film industry so he does not think it will negatively impact filming in Pennsylvania.  He also notes this will not cover school and church plays that might also be filmed.