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Gotham backs law aiding child actors

Key provision: 15% of earnings to be set aside until age 18

New York state lawmakers have approved legislation to protect child actors, mirroring provisions of the Coogan Law in California.

“We commend both the New York Senate and Assembly for recognizing the importance of child protection laws and for their quick and thoughtful action,” said SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert, who worked extensively as a child on TV show “Little House on the Prairie.” “Their impressive work will assist thousands of young performers in New York.”

The key provision of the Child Performer Education and Trust Act of 2003 requires that 15% of all child performer earnings be set aside until the thesp turns 18. Bill, which still must be signed by Gov. George Pataki, also authorizes the state’s Dept. of Labor to enforce education requirements for child performers.

The original Coogan Law was enacted in 1938 and named after Jackie Coogan, who made $4 million as a child only to discover later that his mother and stepfather had spent it. That legislation allowed a court, in approving a child performer’s contract, to order that up to half of the minor’s net earnings be set aside in a trust.

California revamped the Coogan Law in 1999 with the 15% provision, partly because courts were approving few child contracts.

SAG, AFTRA and Actors Equity campaigned for the New York legislation, authored by Senator Guy Velella, chair of the Senate Labor Committee, and Assembly member Helene Weinstein, chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Kid thesps who lobbied lawmakers included Broadway performers Ricky Ashley (“Hollywood Arms,” “Ragtime”) and Julianne Maurielle (“Oklahoma!”) along with Samantha Browne-Walters (“Life With Bonnie,” “Third Watch”) and Alyssa May Gold (“Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”).

In California, legislation to clear up key provisions of the Coogan Law advanced last week with the Assembly Judiciary committee approving Senate Bill 210. Bill, introduced by Sen. John Burton (D-San Francisco), will establish the Actors Fund of America as a “default trust repository” for 15% of child actors’ gross earnings when parents have failed to establish a Coogan account.

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