New Pennsylvania Law Affects Child Actors
Gov. Tom Corbett is slated to sign a law today (Wednesday) to protect child actors from exploitation.
Rep. Tom Murt, R-153, decided that a law was needed after seeing former child actor Paul Petersen on a television program discussing the problems faced by child actors. Petersen, who performed on “The Donna Reed Show” in the 1950s and 60s, continued acting as an adult, released record albums and also wrote novels, founded the nonprofit organization A Minor Consideration to help former and current child actors and their families.
The new law is similar to a law governing child actors in California, said Murt.
“I wanted to protect the health and financial well-being of child performers, but also wanted to provide reasonable guidelines that film and television producers could follow,” Murt said. Murt noted that more and more films are being made in Pennsylvania, taking advantage of the financial incentives the state offers. Film and television production here has nearly doubled in the last decade.
An earlier hearing about the bill included Petersen and entertainment lawyer Gloria Allred, he said. At that hearing, legislators were disturbed to learn that the reality show “Jon and Kate Plus 8,” which was filmed in the state, included shots of the children using the toilet and changing their clothes, he said. The law ensures that children in reality programs have the same protections as other child actors, he said.
The previous laws were so old that children younger than 7 could not legally appear in television series, he said. Under the new law, children younger than 16 on a film set must be accompanied by a parent or guardian at all times and can work no more than eight hours a day or 48 hours a week. All minors must finish before 10 p.m. on school nights.
The law would also cover children acting in commercial theater, but not in school plays, he said.
The bill was crafted after meetings with representatives from the Motion Picture Association of America, he said.
“We were mostly very happy with the bill,” said Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. “We’re grateful that Rep. Murt was willing to listen to people in the industry to find out what was the most practical way to address the issues,” she said. The new law will make it easier to work with children in films, she said, and it will not dissuade producers from shooting here.
The law also requires that trust funds be set up for child actors with the employer depositing 15 percent of the child’s gross earnings into the trust, a “Coogan” clause. That was named for Jackie Coogan, a child actor who began in silent films and became famous, but found as an adult all of his earnings had been spent by his parents, said Murt. Coogan played Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family” in the 1960s.
Petersen, meanwhile, called the bill “a very important step forward” for Pennsylvania to protect children in the entertainment business.
“Children in reality TV, such as the Gosselin children for an example, were not even given the dignity of calling their labor work,” said Petersen. But if you’re on a set being filmed, you’re working, he maintained. “These days in 2012 children know when they’re on TV,” he said. “They know what’s going on. By decree, that a producer or a network or a parent can say they’re not working when everyone else on the set can say they’re working, is an absurdity. Children are free to be exploited by producers and parents and broadcast on national TV.”
Children in the entertainment industry are exempt from federal child labor laws, so states must pass their own, Petersen said. Sixteen states have yet to pass those laws. Federal child labor laws also exempt children in agriculture or for non-profits, he said
“It’s easily fixed,” said Petersen. “We don’t have to invent the wheel.” The California law serves as a model. “I’m so proud of Pennsylvania,” he said. Petersen added that he hopes whoever the next president is, he will address this issue.
“It’s such an American principal, the person who does the work should own the money,” added Petersen. “The person is working. There is no escape clause.”
As for the “sanctity of the parent child relationship,” he noted that FBI statistics show parents murder their children three to five times a day in this country.
“People cling to this notion that parents never harm their children,” said Petersen. “This is only little tiny part of our social responsibilities, as adults, to protect our children,” said Petersen.
Murt thanked Rep. Bob Godshall, R-53, for his help in shepherding the bill to passage. Both Godshall and Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, co-sponsored the bill.