Going to say from the outset that this is NOT a Florida thing and it’s not a baseball thing. It’s a PA thing. I invested a lot of my life in the Commonwealth, and it makes me sad to watch dumb stuff happen up there.
When I first heard about PA House Bill 561 – a bill to amend the PA Liquor Code – it was via a social media “Call To Arms” from fellow musicians that I know, love, and trust. The outrage went something like this:
“Hey, did you hear that PA is going to pass a law forbidding kids from getting paid to play music, and that those kids are going to replace every musician who gets paid now? You need to tell EVERYONE you know to rise up and stop them!”
Maybe I’m different than most, but just because someone yells “FIRE”, I actually look first to see if anything is burning. And it’s real easy to figure out when it comes to PA. This is legislation, it has a number, and using the interwebs one can go to the PA House website and look up the actual legislation. I’ll save y’all some time. Here’s what PA House Bill 561 proposes in its entirety:
“Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, a hotel, restaurant or club licensee may permit a minor of any age to perform music if the minor is not compensated and the minor is under the supervision of a parent or guardian.”
Full disclosure here: I emailed my favorite PA State Senator BEFORE I read the bill. And here’s what I wrote:
“…just heard about PA House Bill 561 – apparently as passed it enables minors to perform music so long as they’re NOT paid. Please tell me I’m missing something and/or that you would not support a bill where anyone would be precluded from earning money for a skill that others are compensated for. Looking forward to hearing back from you…”
So I am guilty as charged – lock me up for caring about kids, but not enough to find out if they’re actually in danger or not. I’m guilty of something else too: I started playing in bars in PA when I was fourteen. Hopefully, the statute of limitations is over.
You see, since Prohibition (that was back in the 1930s), it’s been illegal for anyone under 18 to perform music in a PA venue licensed to serve alcohol. Now you might ask is this really a “law” or just one of those “suggestions” that have a degree of interpretation – sort of like that “Code Red” thingy in “A Few Good Men”. Well, just like Jack Nicholson said, this is for real: and I learned that first-hand a while back when one of my favorite venues in the Poconos got hit with a hefty fine for allowing a really cute eight year-old girl to perform on their stage in front of maybe ten people. Of course, Mom and Dad were super proud, and they posted the video to social media and tagged the establishment. That’s when the PA LCB (Liquor Control Board) “tagged” the owners of the establishment.
So back to HB 561… I received an IMMEDIATE response from a staffer of my favorite PA State Senator, who confirmed that the HB 561 was NOT created to enslave child musicians and destroy the economic engine of musical performers. He added that he called over to the PA LCB and was informed that their Legal Counsel had asked the HB 561’s creator to include the clause “Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary” in order to prevent the appearance that Federal or State Labor/Child Labor Laws were being replaced by this bill. Remember this is PA LCB Code, NOT the Constitution of the United States.
Think about this for a minute – what’s wrong with allowing kids to legally perform at open mics or jams in PA, so long as they are accompanied by a parent? If you think that’s bad – well it happens often. So if you’re opposed to it happening legally, then HB 561 is NOT for you and you should oppose it for that reason. But wherever you live, can you actually envision legislators tearing up Child Labor Laws? Yeah, me neither. We wouldn’t even do that in Florida.
Because don’t we all KNOW that kids 16 and 17 years-old can get working papers and earn at least minimum wage – because that’s been the law for a while? Don’t we also all KNOW that if you’re over 16, you have to be paid for your work – because that’s been the law for a while?
So what REALLY puts kids in jeopardy? How about forcing them to do stuff like working illegally and/or working “under the table” jobs. I know, I did them, and let’s just say I wouldn’t want ANYBODY’S kids to go through what I did. So stand up, say it loud and say it proud if you think kids under 18 should continue to play music illegally in PA bars. Even louder if you are the PARENTS of those kids that have to do it and that you’re totally cool with them going behind your back and doing whatever they need to do while breaking the law to do it.
So continuing my fact gathering, I found State Representative Delozier’s reasons online for writing the Bill. She’s identified musically talented kids in the District she represents and silly her thought they should be allowed to perform in bars if their parents were OK with that. And so, with the help of the LCB’s Legal Counsel, she wrote a law to do JUST THAT. Now if Delozier’s intention was to imprison kids in a musical coal mine and economically destroy the music industry in PA, she was going to have to do it in another bill, because once again – this bill does not take the place of existing child labor laws – laws that ALREADY state kids under 16 cannot legally be paid.
Now that we have ourselves a nice tidy bow of understanding, STAND BACK. It takes a lot to shock me – I DO live in Florida – so I accept there are crazy people everywhere. Not just my neighbors, but friends and relatives too. But I NEVER EVER saw people rising up with pitchforks-in-hand and thinking HB 561 could be a bad thing once they actually read it. Especially since it’s just forty-two words.
But alas, why read when there’s a YouTube video circulating with this really hip-looking smart dude? As if he was discussing his favorite sushi place, he calmly describes a world where the PA Government purposefully destroys the economics of the performing music industry forever – by creating an underage, underclass of child musicians who put more money in bar owners pockets by performing for free at every single venue in the Commonwealth. Not just musicians, DJ’s too.
I will admit I was laughing at this point, until I realized people I’ve known my entire life and respected had bought this hook, line, and sinker. It’s sad to imagine them nodding their heads in agreement with the really hip-looking smart dude spewing his slick BS. Reading their passionate social media posts made me really sad to see them all tricked as if they had just answered the email from their long-lost relative asking for their social security number. And none were senior citizens, but active and amazing artists and performers.
I know, let it go and walk away. And I did. Then a week later, super awesome people I know gainfully employed in the music business – people nominated for Grammy’s and stuff – are posting “Harrisburg Hates the Music Industry; How House Bill 561 Hurts Wages for Professional Musicians and DJs” on their normally sane social media feeds. Even the most normal TV station I know from my hometown ran a story that started, “…House Bill 561 would allow underage musicians to perform in establishments that serve alcohol, but prohibit them from getting paid…” And for all those that watched that story on TV, it HAD to be true.
So let’s tally up:
- the author of House Bill 561 creates an opportunity for “underage musicians” to do something legal for the first time ever and becomes the ANTICHRIST,
- State employees, doing their jobs as Legal Counsel, create the proper wording to prevent Labor Laws AND Child Labor Laws from being violated, and they’re now part of the DEEP STATE,
- and last but certainly not least, the super duper evil PA State House APPROVES CHILD ENSLAVEMENT.
The key to buying into this thinking is the “may permit a minor of any age to perform music if the minor is not compensated” line. Of course, it ignores the clearly obvious “Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary” – a line that CONVENIENTLY NEVER MAKES any of the stories, op-eds or social media posts, by the way. And more than one person told me THEY KNOW what “the minor is not compensated” line means, describing it as the Ace of Spades in the deck of cards that is the law of the universe. Sadly, I fear the Ace of Spades will not carry much legal weight in the PA or US Supreme Courts, so I’m going to go on a limb and suggest (I’m not a lawyer after all) that the PA Liquor Code is NEVER going to supersede State and Federal Child Labor Laws, no matter what the really hip-looking smart dude from YouTube says.
And yes, the source of ALL of this crazy BS is ONE GUY – yup, the really hip-looking smart dude from YouTube. I am NOT making this up. Just ONE GUY. Say what you want but what you may think this one guy lacks in common sense he definitely overcomes with a pipeline of social media pied pipers and pals that get him on TV and get him “clicks” on shared stories and op-eds, as if his opinion had any basis in the law or in legislative precedent.
So my question is, “What’s in it for the dude?” Let’s speculate that the PA State Senate will pass HB 561, Governor Wolf will sign it into law, and the bubble-headed bleached blondes on TV will go back to reporting real stories when the children do not rise up and replace the Rolling Stones. The dude has learned his “pipeline” works, what will he send through it next? I guess we’ll just have to wait until his next YouTube video.
And to everyone that I truly love and respect – who fell for this load of crap – I’m really sorry you had to.