Three interesting bills of the week: lab meat, child labor penalties and sales in public spaces
by Meghan McIntyre, Virginia Mercury
January 19, 2024
Hundreds of bills are filed for General Assembly consideration each year. In the return of this weekly series, the Mercury takes a look at a few of lawmakers’ 2024 proposals that might not otherwise make headlines during the whirlwind legislative session.
House Bill 1382: Lab-grown meat labeling
This bill from Del. Thomas Garrett, R-Gordonsville, would require lab-grown meat products to include a label on their packaging indicating that they are such. Garrett told the Mercury he plans to “tweak” his bill to specifically require the label to state the product is a “cell-cultured edible product,” which his bill would define as a meat product that is made by any process involving the culture of stem cells or 3D printing.
Garrett said he also intends to add an amendment that would require restaurants to notify customers if they sell these types of meat products, which he said could be included as a note on menus.
“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Garrett said. “You have, I think, a fundamental right to know when you’re paying for a product what that product is, and you don’t write meat on something that’s not meat.”
The delegate said he was inspired to introduce the bill after reading an article on how prevalent the cultured meat substitute industry is in Europe and realizing there is no requirement in the U.S. to let consumers know they’re eating cultured meat.
“I don’t want to eat Frankenmeat if I don’t know it’s Frankenmeat,” Garrett said.
The federal government currently has labeling requirements for lab-grown chicken made by two companies, which entered the U.S. market in July 2023. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service requires such products to bear a label stating they are “cell-cultivated chicken.”
Garrett’s bill would go further, extending to all types of lab-grown meat. To date, nine states have passed laws with similar labeling requirements and prohibit the use of the term “meat” on lab-grown products.
House Bill 100: Increased penalties for child labor law violations
HB 100 from Del. Holly Seibold, D-Fairfax, would increase civil penalties for employers who violate child labor laws.
Under the bill, the penalty for employing a child who is seriously injured or dies in the course of employment would increase from $10,000 to $25,000. The penalty for each other violation of child labor laws would increase from $1,000 to $2,500.
Virginia law generally prohibits children under 14 from being employed except in certain circumstances, including farming, being a page or clerk for the state Senate or House of Delegates or working for a parent in an occupation other than manufacturing. Children aged 14 to 15 can be employed if they are enrolled in a regular school work-training program and have a work-training certificate.
The bill comes after the New York Times revealed the use of migrant children for cheap labor across the U.S., including at a Perdue Farms slaughterhouse onVirginia’s Eastern Shore, where a child worker’s arm was mangled after getting caught in a machine.
House Bill 235: Penalties for using public spaces for unauthorized commercial activities
This legislation from Del. Anne Ferrell Tata, R-Virginia Beach, would allow cities and towns to impose monetary penalties on people who occupy public spaces for commercial purposes without the city or town’s consent. Tata’s office told the Mercury the city of Virginia Beach requested she carry the bill.
The bill would limit such penalties to $500 for the first violation, $1,000 for the second and $1,500 for the third or subsequent offense. Each day the public space is occupied would be counted as a separate offense.
The consequences would be in addition to what is allowed under current law, which makes commercial use of public areas a class 4 misdemeanor that can lead to jail time if the offender does not stop what they’re doing.
People impacted by the bill would include anyone selling a product, service or anything else for financial gain, like food or merchandise vendors. The activities of street performers and buskers who receive donations while performing on public property are protected by the First Amendment as long as they do not directly ask for money.
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