Jailbait? NY State considers law to protect child models

UPDATE:  October 21 -- Signed into law by governor, effective in 30 days.  Wow!

UPDATE:  June 12 -- Passed both houses of NY State legislature.  Next step: governor's signature.
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Backstage at New York Fashion Week, it's about to get a little more crowded -- and potentially a  lot healthier & happier.  

New York State Senators Diane Savino and Jeff Klein joined Model Alliance members outside Lincoln Center today for a press conference announcing the introduction of a bill that would extend current state law protection of performers under the age of 18 to include models.  A parallel bill has been introduced in the lower house of the New York State legislature by Assemblyman Steven Otis -- and the bills could pass as early as this week.

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Model Alliance members and supporters including Coco Rocha (speaking), President Sara Ziff, Lily Goodman, Alison Nix, Paula Viola, and Doreen Small join New York State Senators Jeff Klein and Diane Savino.

Until now, child models have been treated as a special category under New York law and have had very limited and little-known protection under the auspices of the state Education Department, rather than the more extensive requirements for child actors, musicians, dancers, etc. enforced by the state's Department of Labor. 

Each model and former model who spoke acknowledged her own success in the industry -- but also revealed the ugly side of the business of glamour.  The appalling stories from their teen years ranged from what we might delicately term attempts to impair the morals of a minor model to pressure to drop pounds from already skinny frames or to drop out of school in order to pursue modeling full time.  

In recent years, the efforts of the CFDA Health Initiative and a collective pledge by the worldwide editions of Vogue have already moved the minimum age of most models on New York runways and in many editorials and ad campaigns from 14 to 16, at the same time drawing attention to health issues.  So what would it mean for models under 18 to be considered child performers under New York law?  

In other words, what would designers, advertisers, and others who hire models have to consider in order to hire fresh new faces this fall?  The regulations are extensive, but here are a few key points: 


OPTION 1:  

Follow the child performer regulations. 

Papers - Not only would minor models require a permit, but their employers would be required to apply for a general certificate of eligibility to employ child performers and then notify the state of specific dates/times/places beforehand.  The question of "employment" is an interesting and complex one in the modeling industry -- modeling agencies or model management companies (yet another fine distinction) contractually define models as independent contractors rather than employees -- but any fashion house planning to send a 17-year-old down the runway in September should start looking into this now. The statutory definition of a "child performer's employer" is rather broad.  

Hours - Child models' hours are already restricted by law, depending on their exact ages and whether or not school is in session, but few people who work with models are aware of the exact details.  Limits under the new law would be complex but actually more flexible, though they require breaks, including meals.  And no sending the models home after midnight on a school night -- or asking them to return to work less than 12 hours after they've left.  

Study time & tutors - The educational regulations would also be complex and appear intended for employment longer than a modeling gig (think Broadway show -- the successful kind).  Child performers, however, do require study time/space and, if they'll miss more than 3 days of school, a tutor provided by the employer. 

Chaperones - Still thinking of hiring kids under 16 -- perhaps to model a children's line?  Under the proposed law, make sure Mom comes along, or plan to hire someone to mind the models.

Trust accounts - 15% of gross earnings would go into a separate, restricted bank account.  Plan to keep track of the paperwork.  

Penalties - OK, child models aren't really jailbait -- just a potential source of civil fines if the proposed law were broken.  The amounts are $1,000 for the 1st violation, $2,000 for the 2nd, and $3,000 for the 3rd or subsequent violation.  Plus, of course, the notoriety associated with violating child labor law -- not the headline anyone wants to describe a new collection or ad campaign. 

OPTION 2:

Hire models who are at least 18. 

Yes, most modeling careers are approximately equivalent in length to the lifespan of a laboratory fruitfly, and 18-year-old female models are hitting middle age by current standards.  And yes, they may be a bit more expensive, since they already have portfolios.  And YES, it's harder to find an unknown 18-year-old model who's never before worn heels or set foot on a runway than it is to discover a new 14-year-old.  

Then again, it might be nice to see almost-grown women modeling women's clothes for a change.  

OPTION 3:

Move Fashion Week to New Jersey.  (As if.)  But don't be surprised if other states' or countries' rules are just as strict.  

As Senator Savino noted at the press conference, New York is the nation's fashion capital, but lags behind many other jurisdictions in the protection of child models.  In her words, "New York can't be behind Alabama!"