Bill Would Let 16 & 17 Year Olds Operate Carnival Rides In Iowa

Des Moines, Iowa — The legislature has sent the governor a bill that would let 16 and 17 year olds operate the rides at Iowa amusement parks, carnivals and fairs. Senator Zach Whiting of Spirit Lake says it will address critically important workforce issues at Arnolds Park, here in northwest Iowa and at Adventureland in Des Moines.

(As above) “At the Arnolds Park Amusement Park and in the Iowa Great Lakes area, we often have a significant J1 Visa population, folks that come over and work seasonally at restaurants and in hotels and motels and, particularly, at the amusement park and that didn’t happen this year because of COVID,” Whiting says, “and so this bill, I think, gives employers the ability to expand their workforce to include 16 and 17 year olds.” 

Senator Nate Boulton, a Democrat from Des Moines who opposed the bill, says it chips away at child labor laws and does not guarantee an adult is nearby to respond if the ride malfunctions.

(As above) “There’s a sign that usually says: ‘You must be this tall to ride this ride.’ We should also have: ‘You must be this old to operate this ride,’ as a standard…because accidents do happen,” Boulton says. “Things fall out of repair and even the best upkeep can result in problems.” 

Representative Molly Donahue, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, was initially skeptical, but she says after investigating the issue, she decided to support the bill.

(As above) “Sixteen-year-olds don’t generally work just for the fun of it,” Donahue says. “They’re working because they need to earn that money and I was a kid just like that — had to have a job.” 

Senator Dan Zumbach, a Republican from Ryan, says age does not have a lot to do with ability.

(As above) “Even in my own family, I had a 12 year old that was better at operating equipment than my 18 year old because of experience and just his skills,” Zumbach says.

The bill passed the House six weeks ago on a 76-to-17 vote. It passed the Senate this week on a 29-to-15 vote and it’s now up to the governor as to whether the bill becomes state law. FEDERAL law forbids 14 and 15 year olds from operating carnival rides, so this proposal would not conflict with that. Kids 13 and younger are not allowed to work in an amusement park or carnival, unless a parent owns the business.